MAKING THE RIGHT BETZ FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL OKLAHOMA

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MAKING THE RIGHT BETZ
FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL OKLAHOMA

The University of Central Oklahoma is moving forward, outward and upward with new campuses, boathouses and programs that have turned it into the fastest growing college in the state during the last 15 years.

In terms of enrollment figures, UCO has outdistanced other regional colleges and the state’s two major public universities. The school, which is celebrating its 125th year as a public higher ed institution, now has campuses and programs in downtown Oklahoma City, Bricktown and the boathouse district along the Oklahoma River. In addition, UCO has collaborative partnerships with other universities and community colleges such as Oklahoma City University, Rose State College in Midwest City and Redlands Community College in El Reno.

UCO President Don Betz, in a recent interview with ionOklahoma, said the university that started with five students in 1890 now has 17,000 students who come from almost every state in America and 100 other countries.

“This is a fertile time for us,” he said, of the school’s continued growth. “We have clearly defined our way and are fulfilling our responsibility to the metro and the state. We are becoming partners with prime movers who are taking Oklahoma City to the next level. All of us together are smarter than one individual or a single group.”

Betz and his university leadership team operate MAKING THE RIGHT BETZ FOR THE UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL OKLAHOMA BY TIM FARLEY according to the Central Six, a reference to values formally established which guide all decisions. Betz believes students will be transformed through classroom knowledge, leadership, research, scholarly and creative activities, service learning and civic engagement, global and cultural competencies and health and wellness.

“It’s in the groundwater,” he said, of the Central Six. “We’re not searching for a mission. We know why we’re here. We’re here to educate them (students) and keep them here. You don’t leave it to chance.”

The Central Six values and UCO’s focus on transformative learning earned the university a $7.8 million grant in 2014 from the U.S. Department of Education. Since then, 16 ionOklahoma OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015 university officials have been asked to share the details of the program so other colleges can emulate UCO’s success.

“It’s about scalability,” Betz said. “It’s a great idea for Edmond, but is it a great idea for America?” Apparently, the federal government thinks so. The grant will fund the school’s Student Transformational Learning Record (STLR), the first effort of its kind to track, assess and provide information to help college students develop and use skills critical to their workplace, citizenship and personal success.

The STLR will track these experiences – found in the classroom and extracurricular activities – and students will graduate with documentation to show potential employers they have proven competency in critical areas not represented on a traditional academic transcript. These areas include creative problem solving, working well in teams, the ability to communicate clearly and how to interact with diverse colleagues and customers.

“It’s about the people and the purpose,” Betz said.

“We’re building and sustaining committed and Above, panoramic view of Broncho Lake on the UCO campus near the center of Edmond. Left, Betz at the 9/11 Remembrance observance. collaborative people. Everyone’s role well executed makes it possible to achieve outcomes that might otherwise be impossible.”

Betz views UCO as “edgy, a grass roots university” that serves as the “working man’s school.” “We’re here to serve the real people, the type that could go to an Ivy League school and succeed or be challenged at every level along the way. We have graduates all over the world and we care about each individual student.”

Like all Oklahoma public colleges and universities, funding is a major challenge for UCO, which receives Betz visits with faculty 26 percent of its budget from state coffers. The remainder comes from tuition, fees, fundraising, donors and research grants.

Still, UCO is pushing forward with its downtown campuses, the boathouse at the Oklahoma River and the university’s School of Rock, located in Bricktown.

For starters, UCO’s Business Advantage Center is located in downtown’s Santa Fe Plaza, a part of the university that offers professional advice and coaching to those who want to become self-sustaining business people

The boathouse is devoted to the school’s women’s rowing team, which has enjoyed much success. Betz calls the CHK Boathouse a “unique venue where arts meets the river.”

“It’s an amazing collection of options and opportunities for people to visit us at the most unique venue in the country. It’s where music, sports and art meet in one place,” he said, referring to the plethora of activities that occur along the river.

In addition, UCO occupies the entire lower floor of the former downtown Carnegie Library, which houses classrooms and areas for special events that provide customized education.

“We meet a particular need that they (students) want packaged in a certain way,” Betz said. “It’s adaptive space for adaptive needs. It’s learning space for adults.”

UCO also offers its master’s degree in public administration at the former Carnegie Library. In addition, UCO has partnered with OCU to offer a joint degree, one that combines a law degree with the master’s in public administration for those who want to practice governmental law

Public feedback prompted UCO officials to use the downtown location for “high quality learning in a short time frame,” Betz said.

As Betz talks about the students who attend UCO, he was proud to say that half of all graduates leave the university with no debt, partially because of scholarships and grants and partially because UCO students are hard workers who, for the most part, don’t have the luxury of gold or silver spoons.

“Some students have three jobs,” he said. “I don’t know of a student who doesn’t work. They have the attitude of ‘when I finish this degree program my options will open up because of my education.’ Education pays off and I believe in the future of Oklahoma because of the attitude of the citizens.”

The future of UCO students was paved by the school’s founding mother and fathers and the first five students who attended the college in 1890, Betz said.

“I appreciate their foresight and the development that would take place much later,” he said. “Together, we are creating the next generation of citizens while also embracing the past.”

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