Oklahoma’s Best Kept Secret

Oklahoma’s public education has been in the forefront due to funding problems and less than stellar ratings compared to other states. Not all is gloom and doom, however. Our secondary and post-secondary skilled trades and technical education is among the best in the nation.

This started in 1917, when Woodrow Wilson passed the Smith-Hughes act. This act provided federal funding for vocational education. In 1929, the State Department of Education established the division of Vocational Education, and in 1932 was moved from the Capitol to Stillwater, Okla. In 1966, Oklahoma Technology Center school districts were formed. In 1968, the state board of vocational and technical education was established as separate entity from the State Department of Education. On May ±19, 2000, Governor Frank Keating signed HB 2128, which officially changed the name to the Department of Career and Technology Education.

This Career Tech network is comprised of 29 technology center districts and 390 comprehensive school districts. Career Tech also has skills centers that serve correctional institutions. Not specifically included are community colleges that provide certificate and degree programs in skilled trades, health careers and technology, Often in tandem with the Career tech network.

Central Technology Center in Sapulpa provides training and education in many fields of endeavor, ranging from construction trades to biomedical technology. High school students can take classes and by graduation can be ready for the job market or continue their education in their career trajectory. Technology is evolving rapidly and businesses struggle to obtain and keep a workforce with the necessary skills. The Career Technology program, along with the other institutions of higher learning in Oklahoma, is providing this skilled workforce.

The Crown jewel of career and technology education in Oklahoma is Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Since its inception in 1946, thousands of students, including, those from other states and countries have received an education that led to a career path and immediate employment. OSUIT is Oklahoma’s only University of applied technology.

OSUIT is ranked 8th in public schools nationwide, and boasts a 90 per cent post-graduation employment rate. At one time, OSUIT was the largest post-secondary residential (dormitories on campus) tech school in the United States. While I was attending OSUIT, the New York Times did a story on the school calling Oklahoma State Tech “the Harvard of technical schools.” (At the time of that story, the name of the school was Oklahoma State Tech).

OSUIT has partnered with industry and is recognized globally for its world –class teaching facilities. Many corporations, such as Ford, Phillips 66, Toyota, Rolex, and others have looked to OSUIT to educate and train their workforce.

Oklahoma’s Career and technology program has been and continues to be a valuable asset to the citizens of Oklahoma. There are several corporations that moved to Oklahoma, such as Kimberly-Clark and Whirlpool, among others, in part, because of the skilled work force and the public-private partnership in providing and updating those skills to their employees. It is estimated that career and technology education contributes 3.5 Billion dollars annually to Oklahoma’s economy.

Charles Betzler is an OSUIT graduate (1972) and owns an electronics repair shop.