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Spotlight On Education: The Art(s) Of Heritage Hall

justin brotton - Saturday, November 01, 2014

By Michael W. Sasser

There are certain stereotypes by which many people characterize high school, not the least of which is the cliquish nature of the culture. There are the “brains,” the “jocks,” the "chorus geeks," the "band nerds," the “cheerleaders,” etc.

John Hughes practically made a career of those carefully defined roles.

However, at Oklahoma City's Heritage Hall School – perhaps better known for top-notch academics – numerous vibrant performing and visual arts classes, programs and opportunities beginning in elementary school and flourishing at the high school level bring students and faculty across those lines, enjoin students of all stripes and interests, and receive ample support from the school and community. The result is well-rounded students, well-rounded adults, and more opportunities in the arts than most other schools in the nation, particularly with budget cuts in the arts at most public schools.

"Heritage Hall offers an arts experience that you just wouldn't get at another school," said Jay Ferguson, the school's director of performing arts and Fine Arts Department chair. "Our arts programs, their quality and the support from the school itself and the community is one of the things that makes Heritage Hall distinctive. Around the country, the mantra is that arts programs are [unsustainable], whereas at Heritage Hall, arts programs are an essential part of the curriculum.

"Our administration and the community – we have a large, active, terrific group of boosters – see it as a vital part of creating well-rounded human beings," Ferguson explained.

Heritage Hall offers a wide array of arts programs and classes, from filmmaking to musical theater, drama, various musical options, etc.

"We don't have dance yet, but I hope we are able to add that," Ferguson said.

Because students can take classes instead of committing to one particular tract in the arts, all manner of students end up learning self-expression and arts techniques together – crossing all of the prototypical scholastic cultural boundaries.

"Our programs incorporate not only the committed arts students, but also any and all students," Ferguson added. "We want every student to have an arts experience. We work with coaches, teachers and the administration to make sure every student has the chance for an arts experience. We aren't the underdogs here. There isn't the usual conflict and competition as you would think in other schools."

The array of arts opportunities at Heritage Hall is particularly impressive given the relatively small size of the school. It starts at the elementary school level with daily music classes – something rare in most schools today. Then there is the selection of classes and programs. Finally, there are the productions: two full-scale musical theater productions each year, two non-musical theater productions per year, two annual giant review-type shows, musical performances, art exhibits and more.

"The idea is to give students the chance to be on-stage because it permits them to exhibit what they have learned," Ferguson said. "Project-based learning is standard at Heritage Hall, and we are all about the experience. It's challenging for everyone, but we do it. For a school our size, one wouldn't think we could offer so much."

Ferguson said there are several factors that contribute to the vibrancy, quality and scope of arts opportunities at Heritage Hall.

First, says Ferguson, is the "world class faculty."

"I've been there and back and, by far, these are the most talented and capable people I have worked with," he said. "With the faculty, our students in any discipline have one of the best in their area guiding them."

Resources – material and human – are also one of the keys to the success of Heritage Hall arts programs.

"We have a lot of resources at our disposal," said Ferguson. "Part of that is that the school has put substantial resources into the arts and arts programming. We rarely lack for anything we might need. Partially, that is because of the support of the school itself. Equally, though, it also comes from the community. We have a spectacular boosters group that is very active with us and supportive of us."

Ferguson also cited the experiential opportunities offered to Heritage Hall students and the absence of boundaries.

"Our programs are very well populated, and because students don't have to be committed to [the arts], they come from all walks of life. You don't have to be a 'chorus nerd' or 'band geek' in order to get involved."

It might not always have been that way at the school, but it didn't take long for the arts programs and opportunities at Heritage Hall to become considerable draws.

"When I first started, there was some recruiting, but once the many opportunities were known by the students, we were able to 'sell' opportunities quickly," Ferguson said. "There was so much thirst for these types of programs. I can't believe the same thirst doesn't also exist elsewhere."

While there may be demand for strong, experience-based and diverse arts programs at many schools in Oklahoma and around the country, that demand is being met every day at Heritage Hall.

For more information on Heritage Hall, visit www.heritagehall.com.

Special SNU MBA Program Launches Careers In Leadership

justin brotton - Monday, September 01, 2014

By Michael W. Sasser

When Debbie Kearns began investigating Oklahoma universities to decide which to attend to pursue her MBA a few years ago, she says she kept coming back to the opportunities at Southern Nazarene University.

The well-respected university was not exactly unfamiliar ground for Kearns. Fifteen years ago, she had studied nursing at SNU as an undergraduate and become a registered nurse.

"I looked around, but I did not want to work entirely online, and SNU offered an MBA in Healthcare, which was what I was looking for," Kearns says. "Of course, I also remembered my own experiences there. It's a smaller university, and I knew from my undergraduate studies that SNU offered very personalized attention. It's a great university."

Today, Debbie Kearns, RN, BSN, MBA, is a leader in the healthcare field as chief operating officer of Community Hospital and North West Surgical Hospital. She credits the rapid advancement in her career to her SNU experience.

"I've been in the healthcare field for more than 20 years, and in management a good deal of that time," she says. "I started as an I.C.U. nurse and moved into management in nursing, and then senior management positions. Earning my MBA at SNU allowed me to advance into leadership positions, where I have a clinical role but also an operational one."

Nico Gomez had a similar experience. The CEO at Oklahoma Health Care Authority grew up in the Oklahoma City area and was living in Bethany when he began looking for an MBA program.

"I kept coming back to SNU," Gomez says. "I was impressed with the people – not just the faculty and administration, but also the relationship that graduates had with the university."

Gomez said he was taken aback by the cohesive functionality of studying both online and in the classroom. "I did a lot of work online, and what impressed me was the way they managed to bridge the gap and express real care online."

Gomez adds that he wanted to advance in healthcare management, and knew it would require an MBA and specialization. That's just what SNU offered, and Gomez, like Kearns, credits the university for enhancing his opportunities.

"Besides being able to get an MBA from what I consider to be a prestigious university, without that education, I wouldn't be CEO at Oklahoma Health Care Authority," he says.

Avilla Williams, then an R.N., knew she would need a Master's Degree to advance in leadership positions. She also considered several options before enthusiastically opting for the SNU program.

"I was looking for two things in particular," Williams says. "I wanted to attend a school with a focus on religious studies, and I needed a program that I [could pursue] part-time because I was working at the time."

Today, Williams is president of Integris Edmond.

Kearns, Gomez, Williams and hundreds of others in leadership positions around Oklahoma have all benefitted from a very special program offered at SNU.

"Everyone in Oklahoma knows about Southern Nazarene University, but what may not be as well known is that it boasts one of the most influential graduate business schools the state has had over the past three decades," says Andy Greene, marketing and enrollment manager for SNU's Graduate Studies in Management program. "SNU's Graduate Studies in Management, or what is more commonly referred to as SNU MBA, is host to hundreds of professional adults annually seeking to earn an MBA, MBA-Health Care, or MS, Management degree. Typically, our students enroll in order to further their career, change career direction, and/or to remove the proverbial 'ceiling' perched firmly above their career advancement path. All of our students enroll to increase their knowledge and learn more, thereby empowering themselves and their careers."

Greene points out that one of the unique aspects of the program is that its students enroll as adults, and that many of them are already well established in their careers. Therefore, the level of focus and like-mindedness among the student body is phenomenal, he says.

"There was such a cross section of people demographically in terms of age, professional and personal backgrounds and experience that it created a much more fruitful experience overall," agreed Williams.

The program's learning structure is "cohort based," meaning every student belongs to a group of around 15-20 individuals that journey through the program together, from start to finish. These small groups are capable of intense focus, encouragement and support of one another, and typically maintain strong bonds after graduating together.

Today, campus extensions in Del City and at the SNU Tulsa campus both provide all three degree plans offered by SNU's Graduate Studies in Management program (see sidebar).

SNU considers its graduates "ambassadors for life" for the program, and both Kearns and Gomez are open advocates of the program and of SNU.

"It's incumbent on us to leave a footprint in the Oklahoma City area and beyond," Gomez says. "Online opportunities help permit that."

Kearns taught for the program for a year and a half, and praised the program for frequently featuring educators with both academic credentials and practical experience.

Particularly in Oklahoma, but well beyond as well, SNU MBA graduates act as ambassadors and hold significant positions in numerous areas. Literally hundreds of other leaders and leading business figures in a range of fields have stories similar to those of Gomez and Kearns.

The program's cohort-based system and the collaborative approach it helps foster extend to the faculty.

"The collaboration with professors, the deans and assistant deans in the MBA program was tremendous," Kearns says. "They were involved and helpful. I don't know if all other programs are like that or not."

Kearns did say that her two children graduated from other schools, but they did not have the same kind of individualized attention and focus as Kearns did at SNU.

"Staying with the same group of people and building knowledge and relationships was very rewarding," Williams says. She added that even those pursuing other fields have leadership skills that transcend their specific area and are valuable to learn.

In addition to the benefits and successes of the SNU's Graduate Studies in Management program, graduates feel that the particular culture and environment of SNU reflect the collaborative and nurturing essence of the university itself.

"SNU's overall mission is evident in how the university works every day," Kearns says. "It has a very strong culture. Faculty and staff live their culture. You experience all of the time with everyone whom you encounter every day in their institution."

Williams said the kind and caring nature and the community environment of SNU were impressive to her, and there was something she learned from her SNU experience that influences her everyday professional life.

"The importance of interpersonal interaction with the people with whom you work is something I learned at SNU and something I strive for in everything I do," Williams says.

Gomez said the SNU experience is something that binds people together while breeding success. "They instill a values thing in you personally that once you make a connection [with SNU], it's not a short-term thing. It follows you for the rest of your career."

According to SNU, "Founded in 1899, Southern Nazarene University is a private, Christian, liberal arts university – a service of the Church of the Nazarene. Located on a 40-acre campus just west of Oklahoma City, SNU grew out of several small colleges committed to training people for service to God and their fellow man. More than 32,000 alumni work and serve throughout the United States and the world."

For more information about Southern Nazarene University, visit www.snu.edu. For more information on GSM opportunities, visit www.snu.edu/graduate.

SNU's Graduate Studies in Management Information:

All three programs operate cohort based

* One course at a time, each six weeks in duration, courses administered back-to-back.

* One-time registration, books and all course materials delivered to students: on-campus students – delivered to them at class prior to each semester; online students – shipped to their home address prior to each semester.

* World-class blended faculty comprised by full-time SNU business professors and exceptionally qualified adjunct instructors immensely successful in their specific career industries and area of expertise.

SNU MBA Availability


Available on-campus (OKC, Del City, Tulsa)

Available 100 percent online

22 months total

Cohort based

MBA-Health Care

Available on-campus (OKC, Del City, Tulsa)

Available 100 percent online

22 months total

Cohort based

MS, Management (MSM)

Available on-campus (OKC, Del City, Tulsa)

18 months total

Cohort based

Online University: A New Classroom for Adults

justin brotton - Tuesday, July 01, 2014

By Abby Lorenc

Any interest in a first or second bachelor’s degree? Or perhaps a master’s in your field? Whether you’re thinking about a bachelor’s or post graduate degree, online education is becoming a more viable and affordable option.

Increasingly, universities are offering online certificates, associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees; and some universities are even offering exclusive online programs. In the state of Oklahoma alone there are some 60 colleges and universities offering degrees entirely online.

The list of online education benefits is succinct but compelling. Cost per credit hour is often the same or comparable to an on-campus education, but in most cases significant savings come from not having to commute and not having to pay on-campus fees. But the main appeal of an online education is flexibility. With online education, you have the ability to conform the program to your schedule. What follows is a brief guide to online education in Oklahoma.



Accreditation organizations evaluate colleges and universities to make sure they comply with educational standards. Whether or not your school is accredited could be important to your future employer, to colleges you might consider transferring to, and to the quality of education you will get. Check to see if your potential online college is accredited, and be sure you know which organization gave them their accreditation. Recently, several accrediting organizations have surfaced that are not recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the USDE publish a list of accreditors that they recognize. Google this list to make certain your school is recognized by one of these organizations.

(Note: You’ll notice different types of accreditation on the list. A college can be nationally or regionally accredited, the most important accreditation being regional. The USDE recognizes seven regional accreditation organizations, while the CHEA recognizes six. If the school you are looking at is accredited by one of these, you’re good to go.)


Find out how the university charges you for your classes. Some online schools charge per credit hour, some per semester. Depending on your situation, one school might have a more promising degree while another is more cost effective. You’ll have to choose based on your priorities and whether or not you are able to take a full course load. If you aren’t able to enroll fulltime, the fixed semester tuition is not a good option.


You need high-speed Internet, a webcam, a headset with a decent microphone, a printer, and note-taking software such as Endnote or Evernote. Most schools will offer more detailed lists of required software and operating systems. Be sure to factor this into your initial financial investment as an online student.

Quality of Faculty

Organizations that rank online colleges look for the percentage of terminal degrees among the faculty. That means the more professors with a Ph.D., the better. Check to see how the faculty has been educated, and if they are qualified to teach in your field.

Size of Class and Opportunity for Teacher/Student Interaction

Class size matters just as much online as it does in a traditional classroom. If there are 400 students in an online class, you may not be able to interact with your professor or peers like you wish to. In most cases, the fewer students per professor, the better.


For Oklahomans wanting to enroll in an online degree program, the best option will likely be a state school or a school that does not charge out-of-state tuition. (Just as if you were an on-campus student, out-of-state tuition is often double the cost of in-state tuition.) Of course, if you want the best of the best, you can attend Duke Business School online at roughly $300,000. However, for most of us that is not a wise (or possible) investment. Here is a sampling of schools to consider:

Looking for a business degree? Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business is nationally ranked for its online Graduate Business Programs, offering five master’s degrees, including a Masters in Business Administration, available entirely online. The cost is $377 per credit hour for in-state tuition, whether you are a full-time or part-time student. With a total enrollment of over 1,200 students in the online program, the school is thriving, and it is easy to transfer general education credits from community colleges or other schools to complete your degree.

Interested in Liberal Arts? The University of Oklahoma in Norman offers several bachelor’s and master’s degrees through their College of Liberal Studies. These programs are also offered entirely online, including general education courses. OU is unique in that the online college has created its own degrees, and while one is geared toward business, the diverse degrees include a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, a Bachelor of Arts in World Cultural Studies, and a Master of Arts in Museum Studies. The average age of students is 37, and over one fourth of the students enrolled are military. The resident tuition and fees are less than $300 per credit hour for the undergraduate programs, and just over $300 for graduate programs.

Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City offers eight associate’s degrees and a Bachelor of Technology in Emergency Administration online at less than $150 per credit hour for residents. This could be a great option if you’re looking to knock out an associate’s degree before moving on for a bachelor’s, or if you’re looking at an associate’s degree in applied sciences.

Several community colleges and public universities including Langston University, Southeastern State University and Cameron University work with a program called Reach Higher, an Oklahoma program for working adults who want to finish their college degree from a state university. The program is simple and affordable, although it offers only a Bachelors of Science in Organizational Leadership.

For those who have an associate’s degree in nursing from an accredited nursing program, Southwestern Oklahoma State University offers an RN to BSN degree available online, as well as a Master of Arts in Educational Administration for teachers with at least two years’ experience.

There are several other schools that offer affordable options for Oklahomans. Western Governor’s University, University of Wyoming, Walden, and Fort Hays Virtual College all offer competitive programs and tuition.

For a complete list of programs, the U.S. News and World Report provides rankings each year of the best online degree programs in each field. The major factors considered in their rankings are based on student engagement, faculty credentials, peer reputation, and student services and technology. Take a look at the list, but keep in mind that each student’s priorities will differ when approaching their online higher education.


What does my employer think? If your employer is encouraging you to get a master’s or a bachelor’s degree, make sure they support your choice to pursue a degree online. Still relatively new, online degrees can carry a stigma, but every year the schools are improving, and in the 2014-2015 academic year there are some excellent programs. This may be the best option for both you and your workplace. Communicate openly with your employer to ensure that you are making the best choice for their needs as well as yours.

How well do I manage my time? Some online programs offer eight-week classes, while others are 16 weeks. Some offer more flexibility with completion, and others less. Regardless, with an online education you will not suffer the immediate consequences of showing up late or of being counted absent. So be honest – can you trust yourself to show up? How much flexibility and accountability do you need to make your education successful? Find a program that works for you, and admit if what you really need is face-to-face interaction.

How am I going to pay for it? There are organizations such as Project Working Mom that exist to fund online education for adults with financial need. Most colleges that provide online degrees offer off-campus students the same scholarship opportunities they offer traditional students. Also, find out if you can test out of certain classes, or if classes you’ve taken in the past can apply to a degree in the school at which you are enrolling. The more you can transfer, the more you will save.

Finally, What do I really want? Most importantly, you need to be aware of what your specific goals are. The great thing about online education is that you can tailor it to your needs, but that means you must be aware of your needs. Are you a single mom who needs significant flexibility and grace for missed courses? Are you an MBA student working fulltime and wanting to do projects that apply directly to your business? Are you a retired adult looking to expand your educational horizons? Make yourself a dream board, and then make it happen for an affordable price.

Online education is affordable, convenient, and now there are enough accredited programs that you can be picky about exactly what you want. Online education is not for everyone, but it could be a great way to help you meet your potential.

Much controversy and debate surrounds for-profit schools as more and more working adults turn from public schools to these institutions. For-profit schools operate as businesses, and often have shareholders. Most of these schools, such as DeVry or University of Phoenix, operate entirely online. They are pragmatic, have no entrance requirements, have little if any required electives, and offer flexible schedules. Whether a school is for-profit or not-for-profit is likely not as important as the programs it offers, how affordable it is (for-profit schools are often more expensive), and regional accreditation.

The Results Are in: Oklahomans on Saving for College

justin brotton - Sunday, June 01, 2014

By Krista Bruce

A recent survey was conducted to learn more about the perception and awareness of parents and grandparents throughout Oklahoma regarding saving and investing for higher education. The results may surprise you.

It’s no secret that parents and grandparents want their children and grandchildren to graduate college. According to the survey results, a large majority of Oklahoma parents and grandparents, 86 percent, believe that it is “very important” that their child or grandchild attend college. It’s apparent that Oklahoma parents and grandparents do understand the importance of college, and the value in pursuing a higher education. But the price of a college degree isn’t cheap.

The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is an investment tool that can help families plan and invest for the future of Oklahoma. Only 23 percent of Oklahoma parents and grandparents have started saving or investing for college. This seems like a great start, but how are Oklahoma parents and grandparents going to get 86 percent of children and grandchildren to attend college when only 23 percent have started saving for this future expense?

Saving versus Investing

Unfortunately, over 50 percent of Oklahoma parents and grandparents believe that a savings account is just as good as a college savings plan when asked about saving versus investing. Unexpectedly, 71 percent of Oklahoma parents and grandparents said that tax advantages were a “very important” characteristic when looking for a college savings plan; however, 60 percent were not aware that the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan offered tax advantages.

Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller serves as board chair for the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan. Miller says the poll results reveal parents and grandparents know the value of a college education for their child or grandchild, but are not fully informed on the great options to invest for their child’s or grandchild’s higher education. He encourages parents and grandparents to look at all possibilities when planning for college expenses.

“We have a great resource to help parents and grandparents invest in their child’s and grandchild’s future education,” Miller said. “Increasing the number of Oklahomans with a higher education is important for all of us who call this great state our home.”

The Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan is the only state-sponsored plan that offers an Oklahoma tax deduction of up to $20,000 per household, per year. In addition, any earnings from an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan used to pay for qualified college expenses are free from Oklahoma and federal taxes.

What is a qualified college expense? Room and board, books, mandatory fees, supplies, equipment required for enrollment and attendance, and most importantly, tuition are all qualified college expenses for which funds from an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan account may be used. The ability to use funds for room and board, books and other related expenses was rated “very important” by 71 percent of Oklahoma parents and grandparents.

What does college cost? Oklahoma parents and grandparents were also asked about the cost of in-state tuition, such as Oklahoma State University or the University of Oklahoma University. The responses were all across the board, with the largest block of answers, 48 percent, between $10,000 and $35,000 per year. However, 1 in 5 respondents simply stated that they did not know or would not even venture to guess at the cost of college tuition.

According to the OSU website www.okstate.com, tuition and fees for 30 credit hours is estimated at $8,190.00. The OU website, www.ou.edu, tallies tuition and fees for 30 credit hours at an estimated cost of $8,915.50. As you can see, there is a substantial difference between the perception of the cost of college and the actual estimated cost of college tuition and fees.

“College graduates generally earn about $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetimes,” said Miller. “Your child will also have a wider array of employment opportunities than those without a college degree, and unlimited opportunities to explore and develop his or her talents.A college education can fulfill many of your desires for your child’s future, and saving now will help make a college education a reality.”

The survey, conducted by ShapardResearch in December 2013, is the first opinion poll since the inception of the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan in April 2000. The objective of the survey was to learn more about Oklahoma parents and grandparents and their knowledge and habits of saving and investing in higher education. No state funds were used to conduct the opinion poll.

For more information about the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan or to open an account, visit the website at www.ok4saving.org or call 1-877-654-7284. You may also find Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Oklahoma529 and Twitter at https://twitter.com/OCSP529.

Earnings in an Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan account are federal and Oklahoma income tax-free, and qualified withdrawals are permanently free from Oklahoma state and federal income tax. Funds may be used at virtually any private or public college nationwide, and the savings can be applied to tuition as well as other qualified expenses including fees, books, supplies and certain room and board costs.

The Oklahoma College Savings Plan is a state-sponsored, tax-advantaged 529 college savings plan administered by TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing Inc. Introduced in April 2000, the Oklahoma College Savings Plan currently has more than $614 million in total assets with more than 53,000 accounts (as of 4/11/14). Since inception, Oklahomans have used more than $230 million from the plan for college expenses.Consider the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses before investing in the Oklahoma College Savings Plan. Please call toll-free 1-877-654-7284 or visit www.ok4saving.org for a Disclosure Booklet containing this information. Read it carefully.

The tax information contained in this material is not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding tax penalties. Taxpayers should seek advice based on their own particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor. Non-qualified withdrawals are subject to income taxes and the federal additional 10 percent tax.

Account value in the Investment Options is not guaranteed and will fluctuate based upon a number of factors, including general market conditions.

TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc., Program Manager.

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