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Bill approved to transition AHEC into branch of Southeastern

Monday, April 25, 2011   (0 Comments)
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Ardmore —

The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that would make the Ardmore Higher Education Center a branch campus of Southeastern Oklahoma State University. But Rep. Pat Ownbey, who co-authored the bill with Sen. Frank Simpson, said late in the day, "We don’t have the victory yet. We’re not there until the bill is signed by the governor.”

Despite opposition from East Central University, the bill passed by a vote of 63-30. Ownbey described the passage that drew support from both sides of the House and sent the bill to the governor’s desk a "great” day. However, he cautioned there is more work to do.

"We (legislators) have done our job. We expect the opposition will come out in full force against the bill. So, now the community — the people — need to do their job. They need to write, call and email the governor in support of the bill,” Ownbey said. "Most people don’t think about a bill after it passes the legislature, but until the governor signs it, it’s not done and we only have a few days. The governor only has until Wednesday to sign.”

In a tight budget year the bill includes an important element that prevents the use of any additional funds in establishing the branch campus. Ownbey and Simpson both said the branch campus will provide exciting opportunities for the entire area without extra expense.

"Southern Oklahoma deserves increased opportunities for higher education, and House Bill 1227 will provide those opportunities,” Ownbey said. "This type of consolidation has been done with every other higher education center in the state and was overdue for the Ardmore Higher Education Center. The legislation will not cost the state money and will be of great economic benefit to southern Oklahoma. I greatly appreciate the support it received.”

"I am excited about what this means for southern Oklahoma,” Simpson said. "A full-fledged branch university in Ardmore will give more Oklahomans the opportunity to attain a higher education and will help boost the economy of the region. As several members pointed out today, we might even draw in students from Texas.”

"I am excited about what this means for southern Oklahoma,” Simpson said. "A full-fledged branch university in Ardmore will give more Oklahomans the opportunity to attain a higher education and will help boost the economy of the region. As several members pointed out today, we might even draw in students from Texas.”

Murray State College will retain exclusive authority to offer all lower division courses and programs at the Ardmore campus. Another provision of HB 1227 allows ECU to continue offering it nursing program at the branch campus. A third provision allows ECU to continue the programs it has historically offered in Ardmore until 2014 and requires SOSU and ECU administrators to agree on which courses ECU will offer in Ardmore after that point.

Ardmore residents, AHEC officials, the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce and the Ardmore City Commission have long supported creating a university branch campus in Ardmore. Ownbey said the legislation has the support of 81 percent of the families in the Ardmore area.

The AHEC serves more than 4,000 students per year, providing degree programs as well as continuing education programs. Enrollment has grown by 70 percent since 2003.

The Ardmore city commissioners approved designating 30 acres of property in Ardmore Regional Park for a new university branch campus in 2007. The commissioners also budgeted $4 million to support the project in the city’s TIF 2 plan. Ardmore City Clerk Ken Campbell anticipates the city will apply for a $4 million loan within the next six months. The loan will be repaid using TIF 2 revenue.

The measure now goes to Gov. Mary Fallin to be signed into law.

To contact the governor by mail, send letters to: Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Room 212, Oklahoma City, OK 73105, call (405) 521-2342, fax (405) 521-3353 or email: info@gov.ok.gov.

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