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3 Oklahoma colleges become first in state to offer degrees in artificial intelligence

MIDWEST CITY — More than 19,000 jobs in Oklahoma — from those in the military, to banking, to aerospace, to engineers of all types — require some sort of skill in artificial intelligence, or AI, according to data from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. That number is projected to grow by 21% during the next 10 years.

AI is transforming both society and the workforce, and as a response, three higher-education institutions in Oklahoma — one a community college, another a regional university and yet another a major research institution — now will be the first in the state to offer degrees in the subject, starting this fall.

Last month, in the span of minutes, state regents approved those programs at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Rose State College in Midwest City and Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford. Those schools have decidedly different missions, but they all see an emerging need to educate students in the proper use of AI, said Whitney Alvis, the dean of workforce development at Rose State.

Whitney Alvis, the dean of workforce development at Rose State College.

Whitney Alvis, the dean of workforce development at Rose State College.

AI “is here, and we don’t know where it’s going, but it’s not going to stop,” Alvis said. “We’d better start training people. … You have to know how to use it, which is why it’s important to train people on the ways to use it, where its blind spots are, how to recognize those, how to ethically use it.”

Stephanie Beauchamp, the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for the state regents, defined AI as using machine learning to develop applications and systems that help organizations be more efficient. She said jobs requiring AI knowledge in Oklahoma often command six-figure salaries and noted “the job opportunities in Oklahoma are very high for AI specialists.”

“AI capabilities and applications in education and business are evolving quickly, and Oklahoma public higher education is at the forefront of this changing landscape,” said Allison Garrett, the state’s high education chancellor, who represents Oklahoma on the Southern Regional Education Board’s Commission on Artificial Intelligence in Education. “Ours was the first system in the nation to establish a statewide committee focused on AI impacts in higher education. The goal is to equip our institutions to remain on the leading edge of the AI field and produce the skilled graduates required to meet our state’s current and future AI workforce needs.”

Rose State, Southwestern worked closely in the development of their respective degree programs

At Rose State, Alvis said college officials recognized the need for a degree program in the burgeoning academic field after conversations with those in the state higher education community, as well as local business leaders.

“There is not an industry that this is not touching,” she said.

The associate in science degree in artificial intelligence and machine learning technology is the first academic degree that will be conferred by Rose State’s workforce development department. In addition to the four new AI courses created by the college, Alvis said teaching ethical guidelines to using AI in business will be a key component of the program. Toward that end, there are two key courses required — “Ethics of Data Science” and a philosophy class called “Logic and Critical Thinking.”

More: New state program offers Oklahomans free training in using Artificial Intelligence programs

“It’s not just the techie, computer science pieces,” she said. “It is important to teach the logic and ethics. If we don’t train people how to ethically use it, and how to know its blind spots, there are problems. You have to know what you’re looking at on the tail end.”

Joel Kendall, the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Southwestern, said that university had a similar thought process while developing its Bachelor of Science degree program in AI.

Joel Kendall, the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.Joel Kendall, the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

Joel Kendall, the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

AI, Kendall said, doesn’t “just make everything easier. It also brings with it a lot of issues. We built it to be a cross-college program, with psychology and philosophy components. We want more than the practical application of AI, we want the theoretical knowledge. There are ethical and societal impacts of AI, and we want people to understand all of implications of it. We want (graduates) to understand what the ethical implications of this whole area are and to communicate it to others.”

Kendall said the leaders in Southwestern’s technology and computer science divisions should be credited with the vision to develop what’s a cutting-edge degree program. Southwestern’s smaller size allowed for the flexibility to create such a program in a relatively short time span, he said.

“We’re small enough to be adaptive and agile,” Kendall said. “We can change or add programs that we see are going to be a need. This is going to be one of those examples. If it keeps going like it’s going, this will be a big need for institutions of any size. We don’t mind being the first ones.”

Kendall and Alvis both said Southwestern and Rose State have worked closely in developing their respective degree programs. The idea, Alvis said, is for graduates of Rose State’s program to be able to seamlessly transfer to Southwestern. Rose State also is working toward the same goal with officials at OU, which will offer a Bachelor of Science degree in AI.

“We truly want that to be a pipeline,” Kendall said of the agreement with Rose State. “That was the whole goal — we didn’t want to build something separate from each other.”

For time being, some classes will be taught by outside experts instead of professors

One challenge both Rose State and Southwestern are facing is the lack of professors with advanced degrees who have the credentials to teach AI to college students. For the time being, both institutions will be using adjunct professors — “people with practical knowledge and experience, who are really good at teaching others in doing it,” as Kendall says — to teach the AI specialty classes. Alvis said Rose State and Southwestern officials have even interviewed job candidates together in an attempt to streamline the process.

All three schools are projecting high enrollments, relative to their size. OU told state regents it expected a minimum of 50 students majoring in its program by fall 2028 and 40 grads by 2028-29 academic year.

Rose State projects a minimum of 20 majors by 2028 and 10 graduates by 2028-29, while Southwestern’s numbers are 12 and five, respectively.

“AI is going to create pathways for every student to have a personalized education,” state Education Secretary Nellie Tayloe Sanders said. “Students deserve a dynamic educational environment where everyone can realize their potential. I’m excited that university students will now have the opportunity to take a deeper look at AI and all of its applications here in Oklahoma.”

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU, Rose State, Southwestern Oklahoma State now offering AI degrees

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