OSU names 5 goals to grow student body

By Kirby Lee Davis
The Journal Record
July 13, 2010

TULSA – OSU-Tulsa has adopted five strategic initiatives to grow its student body 33 percent in five years.

Howard Barnett, who this spring became the first president over both OSU-Tulsa and the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa, announced Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa growth objectives during a Page One Luncheon Tuesday at the Tulsa Press Club.

With the first phase of its “Strategic Initiatives 2015” completed, Barnett said the task force set its top goal at achieving 4,000 students with 60,000 credit hours.

Barnett considered that a very ambitious mark, since enrollment at the north Tulsa campuses flattened over the last five years. State budget concerns also present obvious hurdles, Barnett noted, while state law limits how many physicians OSU may graduate and prevents the Tulsa campus from teaching certain classes offered by competing area universities.

The OSU-Tulsa general campus handled 1,800 undergraduate students and 850 in graduate programs last year. The Center for Health Sciences served 362 students, 60 percent seeking a primary care physician degree.

The university has received approval to increase its physician graduates from a 92-member class to 115, but Barnett said budget limitations may slow how that’s ramped up.

To overcome those handicaps, Barnett said OSU must enhance its constituent relationship with Tulsans, increase and diversify its resources, and strengthen its institutional brand.

Since it is a branch of Oklahoma State University, one of the state’s two comprehensive research universities, Barnett said OSU-Tulsa’s student costs naturally represent some of the highest in a competitive Tulsa market, one ranging from Rogers State, Northeastern State, and Langston branch campuses to the University of Tulsa and Oral Roberts University.

Barnett said OSU must educate students on the value that brand brings. He pointed to a recent article in The Journal Record that illustrated the higher salaries graduates of OSU and University of Oklahoma earn over time.

“We need to make sure we’re communicating that value, what it means to have a degree from a comprehensive research facility,” he said. “We can prove the value proposition fairly easy with statistics and you’ll be hearing more about that.”

Barnett also has started a $4 million fundraising effort to establish the first Tulsa campus scholarship program. That would fill a hole in its resources, which otherwise rely on tuition waivers to lure students.

Between its general campus across Interstate 244 from Oneok Field, and its health sciences campus just south of downtown and the Arkansas River, OSU’s 600-employee Tulsa organization spent more than $150 million in the metro area.

Barnett said its research arms at the OSU-Tulsa Helmerich Research Center and the Centers for Health Sciences also pursue intellectual advances that could boost the Oklahoma economy.

“It’s my contention today that OSU here in Tulsa is really Tulsa’s research university,” he said. “We intend to build on that.

“Having been involved in economic development for most of my life in Tulsa, I know there has always been a hunger in this community for having a strong research university. We’re well on the road to fulfilling that dream,” Barnett said.

The Helmerich center’s 16 researchers and 32 graduate students are focusing on four areas aiding Tulsa companies – nanotechnology, alternative energies, biosciences, and aerospace. Barnett is working to get the 123,000-square-foot facility to its full capacity of 20 researchers and 100 graduate students.

“We want to work with Tulsa businesses on research that means the best investment to them,” he said.

The university’s joint venture with the Tulsa Police Department also promises to boost research, although the campus still needs funds to outfit the fifth floor on that newly opened project.

When finished, Barnett said that will raise the Center for Health Sciences from 10,000 square feet of laboratory space to 50,000 square feet, giving OSU the largest concentration of biomedical researchers in the region.

Their current focus is autism and cardiovascular diagnostic research.

“Their focus is on things that make practical difference,” he said.

Barnett noted the key role the medical school plays in helping the OSU Medical Center fill Tulsa’s uncompensated care need. The CHS also operates six clinics that see 125,000 patient visits annually, providing $3 million in indigent care.

From his role in those hospital negotiations, Barnett said he hopes to strengthen OSU’s relationship with the hospital and community.

“I want Tulsans to think of OSU in Tulsa as their public institution of higher education,” he said. “If we can do that, we can do great things.”