To say that Oklahoma has image problems on the national level is a huge understatement.
Whether it’s state Rep. Sally Kern’s rants against gay people or U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s crusade against climate-change science or the misspellings on the ill-advised Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol, the news our state generates on a consistent basis often shocks and amuses the rest of the country.
Many of us live in our own bubble here, of course, and there are thousands of well-educated, open-minded people here, but the word “Oklahoman” is more likely to still conjure up the image of an uneducated, narrow-minded and bigoted hick than anything else. It’s even more apparent after the recent election just how much Oklahoma is out of touch with social and cultural change in the nation.
Probably more importantly is Oklahoma’s reputation as a state that won’t accept the importance of education or accept that its public educational institutions need appropriate funding. We often rank near dead last among states in per-pupil funding in our schools, and that has a major impact on how we’re viewed nationally, too.
It also affects a major component in the state’s overall demographics: The number of state residents who hold college degrees. Only 23.8 percent of Oklahomans have college degrees compared to the national average of 28.5 percent. That, in turn, affects the state median income rate because those people with college degrees make tremendously more money than those people with high school diplomas.
According to the site 24/7 Wall St:
The median pay for U.S. adults with just a high school diploma was $26,699 in 2011. For those 25 or older with a bachelor’s degree, median annual earnings came to $48,309. Residents with a graduate or professional degree did even better; median annual earnings was $64,322.
24/7 Wall St. recently took an insightful look into U.S. Census statistics concerning college degrees and income and, to no great surprise, found that Oklahoma was one of “America’s worst-educated states.” Among the worst states, the state ranked tenth.
Here’s how Oklahoma was described by the site:
Bachelor’s degree or higher: 23.8%
Median household income: $43,225 (10th lowest)
Pct. below poverty level: 17.2% (16th highest)
Oklahoma is just one of 15 states in which less than a third of all adults have an associate’s degree or higher. Residents with graduate or professional degrees are also scarce in Oklahoma. Residents who do have an advanced degree in Oklahoma do not earn much – the median earnings for adults with graduate or professional degrees is just $51,631, the fifth-lowest in the nation. Of Oklahoma’s adults with less than a high school degree, 28.5% live below the poverty line, compared to the 4.3% with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Note the last sentence in the description that describes how many people without college degrees in Oklahoma live in poverty. Is there a a more telling statistic that shows the causation of under-investing in education in this state? To restate the obvious: Oklahoma starves its educational systems at all levels in funding because of conservative ideology, and this results in low incomes and high rates of poverty for residents. The state, then, must deal with the financial costs of poverty, which means even less money for education.
This causation cycle has defined the state for decades. Unfortunately, most of Oklahoma’s politicians and leaders continue to invest in poverty rather than education, contributing to the state’s well-deserved, negative national image.