Higher Education

Regent suggests revising laws that restrict college access

September 23, 2021

Ray Carter

Protectionist Oklahoma laws and regulations have made it harder for many students to access specific college courses, a top education official told lawmakers this week.

Jeff Hickman, chairman of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, noted that state law and some regulations issued by the regents deliberately limit student access to in-person instruction.

“A geographic service area means there are certain parts of our state where we have said, ‘Only this one institution can offer programs in-person in this community or in this region,” Hickman said. “We have some of that with concurrent enrollment. Certain high schools have to get their concurrent classes from certain universities. We have it in certain communities where you can only take freshman- and sophomore-level classes from one institution. That world has dramatically changed and it’s something that we’re going to have to have some hard conversations about in Oklahoma.”

Hickman told members of the legislative Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding—Economic Development and Workforce Working Group that the availability of online courses has upended the model embraced by those who first imposed geographic restrictions on college learning.

“In Tulsa today, you can sit in your living room in your pajamas and take a freshman English or freshman Algebra class from the University of Hawaii if you want to, but you can’t walk across the street and take it from OU or OSU or Northeastern because statutorily the freshmen- and sophomore-level courses in Tulsa are reserved to Tulsa Community College,” Hickman said. “In Enid, for example, you can take freshmen- and sophomore-level classes from Northern Oklahoma College, but not from Northwestern Oklahoma State University. They teach the junior- and senior-level courses there. And we have those situations in other places around the state as well.”

Hickman, a Republican who previously served as speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, suggested lawmakers should revisit those laws—and some lawmakers appeared more than willing to do so.

“When I hear that there’s statutory limitations on where a kid can take a class, I’m not kidding, my brain is exploding, thinking, ‘Holy cow. We’re limiting students because one college president doesn’t want another on their turf?’” said Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond. “I mean, to me, that’s a disservice to our citizens.”