More than a year ago, a contingent of Tulsans returned from a visit to Columbus, Ohio, sold on the belief that a four-year public university could play a major role in spurring Tulsa’s economy.
They had, after all, seen it with their own eyes. Ohio’s capital city is thriving in no small part because of its universities. Ohio State University has approximately 60,000 students, and another 25,000 or so attend Columbus State Community College.
David Stratton, who was about to begin his one-year term as chairman of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, ended the 2018 Intercity Visit to Columbus by stressing the absolute need for Tulsa to get a four-year public university.
“There is no single better economic driver than a four-year university in the city,” Stratton said. “Give me a city with 100,000 college students in it — you give me that, and ... I’ll kick your butt every time.”
Tulsa doesn’t have that four-year public university yet, and Mayor G.T. Bynum said recently that he does not expect the city to land one anytime soon.
“As far as getting OSU to uproot from Stillwater or something like that, that discussion is not taking place,” the mayor said. “It’s more about how do we make what we have more straight-forward and clear and applicable to what people want in 2019.”
Bynum said that since the Intercity Visit to Columbus he has taken part in meetings with leaders of Tulsa’s universities to discuss how to “better coordinate the higher ed experience in Tulsa.”
He noted that several local colleges, including Tulsa Community College, OSU-Tulsa, and the University of Tulsa — a four-year private institution — are making changes or contemplating changes to how they operate.
“I think the discussion right now is how do we make better use of what we have,” Bynum said.
In addition to TU, OSU-Tulsa and TCC, Tulsa is home to OU-Tulsa, Langston University-Tulsa and Oral Roberts University. ORU is a four-year private school.
Bynum said putting a four-year public university in the city is much more difficult and complex than building a low-water dam in the Arkansas River — a project city leaders vowed to get done after an Intercity Visit to Pittsburgh in 2013.
Construction of the dam is expected to begin next year.
“I don’t think it’s like it was when we were in Pittsburgh and we said, ‘You know what? We’re going home and getting the river done,’ ” Bynum said. “There was a clear road map to get it done. It was just that the political will had not been there to pass it.
“Higher ed is much more complex than getting the river done because there is not a clear path forward.”