Q&A - March 3, 2017

The OSUIT billboard on Highway 75, north of Okmulgee, has been one of our most visible recruiting tools for many years. We have also been proud to use this roadside display to welcome travelers to Okmulgee. A very generous property owner made this location possible many years ago, and OSUIT will always be grateful.

I would be interested in establishing a similar billboard on the south side of town. If you know a property owner along Highway 75, south of Okmulgee, who might be interested in helping OSUIT promote our college and community by providing a small amount of land for a billboard, please put them in contact with me.

Q:Why are you writing a weekly column in the local newspaper?

My voice is no more important than the voice of anyone else within this community, but I have come to understand over the years that a college president has a tremendous responsibility to not only run an institution wisely but also to cultivate a strong relationship with the town that houses that institution. This means, in part, being both as good a neighbor as possible and a careful steward of the institution's economic influence on the community.

With the serious socioeconomic challenges that have faced Okmulgee over the past few decades, it has become increasingly important for OSUIT to become actively involved in promoting economic and cultural development within the community. OSUIT is part of Okmulgee, and as the president of this college, I have an obligation to be a positive influence on both the college and the community overall. While this may be expressed in specific projects and activities, ultimately what OSUIT can do best is help to instill a "college town" ambiance within Okmulgee.

There are a number of benefits, both tangible and intangible, that can result from relationships intended to create a college town atmosphere. These benefits accrue for both the institution and the community. Of course, developing strong town and gown relationships often have a history of ambivalence to overcome at first. This is why, I believe, an ongoing dialog with the community is essential.

Q:What are the benefits of being a college town?

On the positive side, studies have shown college towns typically have a lower median age, higher educational attainment, greater white-collar employment, lower overall unemployment, higher family income, and a more cosmopolitan and diverse environment. Conversely, college towns typically have more people renting and living in group housing with higher transiency rates that can sometimes lead to a disconnect between students and townspeople. However, the cumulative effect of college student spending can also have a very positive effect on the local economy. It is much more than just apartment rentals. Restaurants, pubs, music and book stores, trendy shops, and other businesses spring up in districts around college-operated facilities, providing employment, an increased tax base, and economic diversity.

I truly believe Okmulgee is well-suited to become a community with a strong college town ambiance and will benefit greatly from such a relationship.

Your questions and comments are important to me. Please continue to send them to osuit-president@okstate.edu.