ENID, Okla. — Retired banker Bert Mackie says having branches of both Northern Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma State is good business for Enid.
“There’s no better investment as a banker than higher education for a community’s growth,” Mackie said. “The city has the educational facilities to provide that.”
The early days
Mackie is one of the people responsible for that investment, as he teamed with the late Dan Dillingham and others to bring higher education to Enid in the late-1980s and 1990s.
As a founding member of the Enid Higher Education Council, Mackie was responsible for the first Enid Higher Education Program learning center that offered opportunities for public college courses in the city.
At the time, the move also assisted Phillips University, a long-established private university in Enid. Eventually, EHEP would lead to Northwestern Oklahoma State University-Enid and Northern Oklahoma College Enid campuses.
“We’re blessed to have that combination in Enid,” Mackie said. “It’s a real a plus.”
Enid Regional Development Alliance Executive Director Lisa Powell said both institutions are key partners in providing a “proven workforce.”
“We made sure that we got that dialogue in connection with educational institutions and our industries that are able to meet the needs of industry by providing training for our employees,” Powell said. “When our office is looking to support business expansion or new businesses the fact that we have higher education in our communities is a huge asset. It’s something companies are looking for when they want to expand their businesses.”
ERDA helps fund NWOSU Enid’s Entrepreneur Leadership Day and a class at NOC Enid on entrepreneurship and business models. She said improving the quality of life is a key to economic development.
Toward that end, she said she works closely with NWOSU-Enid Dean Wayne McMillen and new NOC President Clark Harris. She said both schools are part of a workforce training committee “that is another opportunity for us to work supporting our employers.”
Promoting higher education
In 2020, ERDA hosted a strategic planning session and identified some broad goals for education and training over the next 10 years.
“Specifically we want to see our regional universities supported financially by the state,” Powell said. “We don’t support consolidation of any of those institutions. It’s vitally important to rural communities like Enid to have them in our communities.
“We have initiatives in that committee that evolve around developing career pathways, information that we can share with students to educate them on careers available in Enid. The employers are looking at what kind of training there is within the region so we can have a home grown work force.”
ERDA works with both campuses to identify what careers are in demand and what pathways are available for students who want to go in those careers, Powell said.
“It’s still a work in progress,” she said. “We hope specifically to get information down to the high school level, which would include fliers or banners in the hallways or information to counselors to share with students.”
Powell said students often don’t realize the many different opportunities at both schools, and it’s the ERDA’s job to get the word out.
“We have worked with the schools about how they can help promote opportunities in higher education that are here so they don’t have to leave the community,” Powell said.
Working ‘as one system’
The opportunities are unique in Enid, Powell said, with NOC Enid being a two-year institution and NWOSU serving upper-division junior and senior students, as well, and providing some graduate programs. The two colleges have a Bridge Program that allows for concurrent enrollment toward associate and bachelor degrees in some fields.
“They really work as one system, and there are not any turf wars, which might happen in other areas in fighting for access to our students,” Powell said. “That speaks highly of all of our schools.”
Another area of continuing education Enid has to offer is Autry Technology Center, which provides training in many industries and often localizes the education for specific fields that are hiring in Enid.
That education can begin as early as while students still are in high school, as the tech school partners with Enid and area schools. However, Autry Tech’s adult enrollment for trade education is robust.
ERDA does not lobby for higher education but sees itself as an “outside partner to facilitate behind the scenes between business and education, Powell said.
“It’s always been important to our work we do in economic development,” she said. “It’s why we are located on a career tech (Autry) campus. Education is a key partner in what we do.”
Mackie, who was inducted into the state Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2020, said Dillingham was his mentor for both business and education endeavors.
Dillingham was considered instrumental in the 1987 Phillips University sale/lease back campaign and was involved in establishing branch campuses in Enid for both NOC and NWOSU.
NWOSU-Enid celebrated its 25th anniversary in ceremonies on Nov. 18, 2021.
‘Making it happen’
Mackie said there “were a lot of people” involved in bringing more higher education opportunities to Enid after Phillips University closed in the late-1990s.
Enid businessman Harold Hamm and former state Sen. Ed Long, who authored legislation, were catalysts, as was former state Sen. Tom Rogers, who served as a lobbyist for the effort to bring in educational opportunities — and eventually branches — of NOC and NWOSU.
“A lot of people worked hard to make that happen,” Mackie said. “We certainly have been pleased about the growth of both schools. It’s a unique situation that they can go to NOC for two years and then go to Northwestern. It allow us to have a lot of flexibility in higher education. We were able to take over the Phillips campus (for NOC). The NOC people have done a wonderful job in improving the campus. I went to school there (PU) in the 1960s, and it looks a lot better now than it did back then. They have fixed up the old buildings and built new dorms.”
Enid Higher Education Council — formed more than 25 years ago to allow public colleges and universities to offer higher education classes in Enid — still exists today, with quarterly meetings that include representatives of both schools to help with legislative needs, Mackie said.
“If there is a bill coming down the pike we need to support, we help them,” he said.
Mackie, who served as an Oklahoma State Regent for Higher Education from 1977-1989, said direct support from the state has dropped from 70% to 30% in those years, putting a more financial strain on students for tuition.
So EHEC’s main goal these days is to raise funds for scholarships to the local higher education facilities. Donors are asked to give in four-year increments to help support students through graduation. Some $350,000 was raised a year ago, Mackie said.
“It’s been a very successful campaign,” Mackie said. “It’s a very easy thing to sell to our merchants and citizens because they believe in scholarships,”
Anyone living within a 25- to 30-mile radius of Enid can apply for the scholarships.
Advances going forward
Two highlights that stand out for Mackie in regard to higher education accomplishments were a doctoral program established in Enid for nursing students and a program passed years ago when he was a regent that allowed high school students to earn college credit.
Now, Enid High School students, through satellite courses, don’t have to leave campus to take college classes. A space for university education at the high school was provided by a bond issue passed by Enid patrons.
“It’s a highly successful program,” Mackie said. “Some kids have a semester or two of college completed by the time they get out of high school. It cuts down on a lot of college expenses.”
The satellite technology has allowed NWOSU-Enid to expand, as well, without adding more real estate.
Mackie said his son teaches at NWOSU-Enid, and that technology has allowed him to reach 70 or 80 students at various sites in addition to the eight or 10 in the actual classroom.
“It will be used even more as we go forward,” Mackie said.
The educational achievements of the last four decades in Northwest Oklahoma are a highlight for Mackie and a tribute toward the work he and others put in throughout the years.
“Seeing Enid finally getting accessible and reasonable higher education,” he said, “is something I will always remember.”