Originally Published in Claremore Daily Progress - 4/8/2017 by Shawn Hein
Devery Youngblood uttered some startling statistics to underline his point.
The founding CEO of newly-formed Oklahoma Tomorrow, an advocacy group that promotes an increase in college graduates in the state, was the guest speaker for Claremore Collective Think Tank during Thursday's luncheon inside More Claremore.
Addressing a group of community business leaders, Youngblood quoted the 16 percent cut to higher education funding, or $153 million, in Oklahoma in 2016.
“We're perfectly designed to get the results we're getting,” said Youngblood, referring to Oklahoma ranking near the bottom nationally in education funding.
The ever-growing gap in education funding has helped lead to the formation of Oklahoma Tomorrow, based out of Oklahoma City. The independent non-profit is funded by the private sector. The organization's goal is to support the creation of more college graduates to strengthen the economy and communities in the state.
Youngblood noted the state currently has more than 18,000 “economy-defining” jobs that will go unfilled because of a lack of college graduates. Those industries include engineering, nursing, IT, financial analysts and various managerial jobs.
Youngblood recalled another alarming number after recently meeting with an executive at Tinker Air Force Base, currently the largest single employer in the state.
“They told me right now they could hire every single engineering graduate in the state that will graduate this year and still have openings at Tinker,” said Youngblood, noting the shortage in engineering graduates.
Youngblood said the lack of graduates in such highly technical occupations has a domino effect on Oklahoma.
“Therefore those jobs go wanting and our economy does not move forward in the way it absolutely could,” Youngblood said. “…We are not graduating enough college graduates to drive the economy of today, much less the economy of the future.”
Youngblood said it is up to the private sector to intervene and take a more active role in improving the future of higher education in Oklahoma.
Prior to forming Oklahoma Tomorrow, Youngblood worked nine years for the Chickasaw Nation on economic and community issues. He was twice appointed to the Oklahoma City Community College Board of Regents and spent time as district director and senior advisor to U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook.
Oklahoma Tomorrow, which officially formed in January, includes a 16-person board of directors, each involved in private business.
Those interested in learning more about the organization should visit the website OklahomaTomorrow.org.