While we are struggling to bring Oklahoma higher education up to the
standards of other parts of the country, it's important to realize
new problems that are developing in universities across the nation.
The competition for outstanding professors will become more
intense than ever, because colleges and universities are facing a
massive wave of retirements during the 1990s. While this certainly
is a problem for Oklahoma, it also can be an opportunity. We can
help fill an increasing need for bright young Ph.D. graduates if we
develop new graduate and research programs.
Developing new programs such as a Ph.D. in energy management
through the University of Oklahoma Energy Center and College of
Business Administration, for example, would come at just the right
time, and it would help in Oklahoma's competition for outstanding
faculty members and students.
The threat of retirements in great numbers was presented
recently by Michael I. Sovern, president of Columbia University in
New York. He sees it as a major problem for the United States in
providing the quality education needed for global competition in the
high tech information age.
"As more faculty vacancies occur, and competition for the most
talented graduate students intensifies,'' said Sovern, "relatively
few universities will be able to replenish their academic strength.
The fate of the remainder - the majority of America's institutions
of higher learning, including many important universities - is in
"If they are forced to grant tenure to the second-rate, the
downward spiral could become irreversible. Many institutions will
have little choice. Even as the supply of talent dwindles, the
demand for college teachers will boom.
"In the mid 1990s, we will enter a period of sustained increase
in the number of 18-year olds. Applications to colleges will soar."
However, Sovern points out that high quality graduate education
is costly to provide, and that's one of the problems Oklahoma must
face. Tuition pays only 25 percent of education costs in Oklahoma
and 33 percent at some universities, but tuition is a major burden
To earn a Ph.D. at an independent university such as Columbia
costs considerably more than $100,000 for tuition and living
expenses, said Sovern.
This gives state universities such as OU and Oklahoma State
University an obvious edge, since the costs for students are much
lower. The trick will be to invest in the quality programs to
attract the students and market the lower prices.
All this stems from the national problem of universities having
difficulty competing with industry for the best minds in the country
and from a generation of top scholars lost to universities and
colleges, Sovern said.
"When I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1955 and accepted
an invitation to become an assistant professor of law,'' he said, "I
considered myself very lucky. Not only would I fulfill my deepest
aspiration, I would enjoy the prestige of a highly respected
profession and believe it or not make more money that those who took
entry level jobs at major law firms.
"Throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s, Columbia's most
sought-after graduates frequently chose law faculties over law
However, the 1980s have been vastly different.
"My son commanded a higher salary when he began at a prestigious
law firm than I did when I became dean of the law school," said
Sovern. "When he later opted for an academic career, he took a
one-third cut in pay. …