City of Broken Arrow to approach NSU about ‘underutilized’ BA campus, plans for future


Part of Northeastern State University's campus in Broken Arrow, which opened in 2001.

By John Dobberstein, Editor

The city of Broken Arrow and Broken Arrow City Council say they plan to approach Northeastern State University officials soon to open “serious dialogue” about the future of NSU’s campus in Broken Arrow and potential expansion.

City officials believe NSU-BA plays a key role in future growth and economic development efforts in Broken Arrow. But they don’t feel NSU has honored a commitment made more than 20 years ago to offer a 4-year campus at the Broken Arrow location.

City council members were not critical of the instructional quality of NSU’s programs or its dedication to students, but they believe the campus that has cost more than $50 million is being underutilized.

The City Council believes the Broken Arrow Chamber and Broken Arrow Public Schools will be important partners in potential discussions, and potentially school districts in Union, Bixby and Coweta as well. 

“I don’t think the voters got what they thought they were going to get,” said Ward 2 City Councilwoman Lisa Ford. “We have $16 million of money in with NSU and we want to make sure we get what we were promised.”

Ward 4 Councilman Scott Eudey said the only tax he’s ever campaigned for was the one that helped create NSU-BA. When the university location was being planned he said the understanding was that classes would only be upper-level or graduate to start, “but the goal was if we built it and you could demonstrate demand, there would be an expansion.

“I agree it’s time to start this dialogue, because the conversation has been going on for two decades about how we make this happen.”

In a statement, NSU told the Sentinel the university is committed to serving the Broken Arrow and Tulsa metropolitan communities “by meeting the educational and workforce needs of the area.

“We work diligently to provide quality and affordable education within the standards and laws that have been established by the Oklahoma legislature. NSU would gladly participate in informative discussions to ensure we are meeting the needs of our region within the legislative intent and our accrediting bodies.”

Growth will continue

When NSU-BA opened in 2001, Broken Arrow’s population was about 80,000. According to the city’s comprehensive plan, Broken Arrow could grow from its current population of 116,000 to more than 137,000 by 2040.

Broken Arrow city planners believe higher education options are important to not only their own city but to south Tulsa and surrounding suburbs like Bixby and Coweta. The city is in the planning stages of creating a mixed-use “innovation district” in south Broken Arrow that would include residential, commercial and educational components while focusing on high-paying career opportunities. Their hope is for the project to be "shovel-ready" by 2026. 

Third Ward Councilwoman Christi Gillespie had requested information about higher education options for the city of Broken Arrow. Attorney Adam Heavin from the Tulsa law firm of Rosenstein, Fist & Ringold told city councilors recently that any changes to NSU-BA’s focus or academic program would need to be initiated by the university.

Gillespie said there is a lack of continuity for some Broken Arrow-area students, since they are forced to take lower-level courses at NSU’s main campus in Tahlequah, or Tulsa Community College – which has formal transfer agreements with NSU – or look at other options.

Council members said it is unorthodox that high school students can take classes at NSU-BA but not lower-level courses on their way to earning a baccalaureate degree.

“I feel like they never intended to be a 4-year school,” Gillespie said. “There needs to be some serious dialogue to offer some options for students that they can go all 4 years and get a degree. What we have is not what the voters voted for.”

“I think they got what they voted for but they thought it would evolve,” said At-Large City Councilman Johnnie Parks. “I always thought this would evolve into 4-year school. I feel that we’re large enough that we need to have 4-year school in city of Broken Arrow.”

“There are students around here that are willing to pay for being here all 4 years,” Eudey added. “I think BA would support (a 4-year university) and it would become another option to (University of Tulsa) or (Oral Roberts University). You can get excellent education in Tulsa, but why not grow those options?”

In the beginning

In 1998, the city of Broken Arrow passed an ordinance that put a sales tax in place that generated $16 million to build the NSU campus in Broken Arrow.

According to the ordinance, the state-operated university was to offer “a mix of higher education programs which will culminate in one or more 4-year degree programs and graduate programs to be obtained entirely on the Broken Arrow campus of the college or university.”

Construction of the $28 million campus was financed with $6 million in state appropriations, $4 million in state bond money, $16 million from the sales tax and $2.4 million from NSU.

NSU-BA received another $26 million in funding in Tulsa Vision funds through a 2005 ordinance.

The campus opened in 2001, after the 1998 tax ordinance was passed. According to Heavin, the Oklahoma Constitution requires State Regents to determine the “functions” and courses of study in each of the institutions of the Oklahoma State System of High Education.

The state system has two research universities, 11 regional universities and 12 community colleges. State policy allows regional universities such as NSU to offer lower-division and upper-division undergraduate study in several fields leading to the baccalaureate degree.

State-designated functions of branch campuses such as NSU-BA allow courses and programs that are part of the institution’s assigned functions “within limits of available resources.”

NSU-Broken Arrow’s status as a branch college means it cannot accept freshman students — even though high schoolers can take classes there.

According to Heavin, to change the policies affecting NSU-BA, a new academic program would be needed. The request would have to originate at the institutional level with State Regents, which would begin its own study of the request and determine whether it should be granted.

“These are time- and resource-intensive processes, and there doesn’t appear to be any mechanism by which either process could be started by the city of Broken Arow without cooperation from and initiation by NSU,” said Heavin’s memo to the City Council.

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