Red Flag Analysis: OK Rogers State University, where defaults exceed graduations, gets entrepreneurial grant from the feds
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Published: 29-Aug-2013

OKLAHOMA CITY – Rogers State University in Claremore, where the student loan default rate exceeds the graduation rate, has received a federal grant to promote entrepreneurship in rural northeast Oklahoma. The beloved Oklahoman for whose family that school is named once said, “I don't make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded $102,590 to Rogers State “to promote the advancement of innovation in the support of a more competitive, efficient, and entrepreneurial spirit in northeastern Oklahoma through a business mentoring program,” according to an agency press release.  

Programs such as EDA’s University Center Development Program are predicated on a belief that government spending on higher education serves, among other things, as a boost to economic development.

Rogers State, with branch campuses in Pryor Creek and Bartlesville, will use the money to pay for an economic analyst who will advise business people on where best to place their resources. The Oklahoman reported Rogers plans to reapply for the federal funding each year for the next five years. 

A range of studies have challenged the assumption that Higher Ed spending boosts economic activity.

In 2011, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP), for example, specified Rogers State as an example of institutions where the conventional wisdom about education spending was not borne out in the data about economic growth. CCAP also concluded, more broadly, that some higher education expenditures are highly inefficient, and that a lack of rigorous curriculum and engagement among students leads to high dropout rates. 

This year, Education Sector – a non-profit, non-partisan think tank on education policy – identified more than 260 colleges and universities in 40 of the 50 states where students are more likely to default on loans than to graduate in four years. USA Today distilled the information, and found ten Oklahoma institutions of Higher Education where defaults exceeded graduations. The analysis dubbed such places “Red Flag” schools. 

At Rogers State, the student loan default rate was 18.2 percent in the 2009-10 academic year, while the four-year graduation rate in Education Sector’s snapshot was 12 percent.  

The university’s challenges have not resulted in limitations on executive salaries, however. In a 2011 review of payrolls at Rogers State, Watchdog affiliate CapitolBeatOK found three employees who earned more ($147,000) than the state’s chief executive. Six other employees had earnings between $100,000 and the governor’s wage. 

It is common to find some variation in graduation rate reporting in academic studies, and that is the case for Rogers State, as seen in the foregoing.

CapitolBeatOK reviewed state information to conclude that in 2009 only four percent of students at Rogers graduated within four years. After six years of matriculation, the graduation rate was 14 percent. 

Things have improved marginally in the last few years, it appears. The latest information from College Results Online, the four-year graduation rate at Rogers reached 5.5 percent in 2012; the six-year rate had improved to 22.7 percent.  

In May, Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson pointed to the College Results Online website as a method for students and families to get “all the information they need to make an informed decision when selecting a college or university.” 

College Results Online draws information from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a comprehensive source of data on major factors known to affect graduation rates. 

You may contact McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com. As a student at Oklahoma State University in the 1970s, Pat McGuigan worked for a year on the Will Rogers research project. 

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