College adds casino courses

Oklahoma City – With casinos popping up, a new program at Eastern Oklahoma State College will help students learn a little southern hospitality.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Tuesday approved the additions of an Associate of Applied Science degree in business services with one of the options in hospitality and gaming, and a certificate in hospitality and gaming services. The degree and certificate will only be offered at the school’s McAlester campus.

The college began a test-run of the program this semester, offering an introduction to hospitality and tourism course to “test the waters,” said Kay Langham, chair of the college’s business division.

She said the courses will help the area’s casinos by teaching management and customer service skills. Langham said she worked closely with the Choctaw Nation, which previously contracted with a management organization to train workers.

“This way they can get college credit and a means for promotion within the organization,” she said. “We look at it as a benefit for them and it will save them time.”

Langham said she has looked at how Tulsa Community College has operated its hospitality and gaming services associate degrees and certifications.

Tulsa Community College’s program is in its third semester and is small, but Jim O’Mealey, lead instructor for the hospitality and gaming program, is hopeful it will grow. There are about 30 students seeking an associate degree or certificate from the school’s west campus, he said.

One of the two degree programs combines general education courses and the specialized business courses, while the other is more intensive industry training. The certificate program requires completion of six courses in gaming operations, hospitality or restaurant management, O’Mealey said.

“We think we will always have a good pipeline of students to the gaming department,” he said.

But his emphasis now is on outreach for the restaurant and hospitality options.

Like Eastern Oklahoma State College and its Choctaw contact, Tulsa Community College worked with the Cherokee Nation in developing the program.

Doyle Paden sees the Tulsa program as a way to bring academic knowledge and specific theories to everyday tasks and skills.

Paden is the director of leadership development and education for Cherokee Nation Enterprises. He said having the specialized programs in Tulsa and also the new program in McAlester will make the areas and the state more inviting because there is another skill-set that colleges are offering.

The state colleges may be offering courses to help private businesses, but Paden said there is not a college or university in the state that does not work with private businesses. He said many students end up going to work in the private sector after graduation.

Hospitality and gaming courses through Tulsa Community College are offered at a Catoosa satellite campus for members of the Cherokee Nation, Paden said.

“What this does is it provides a great educational opportunity for people from different walks of life so they don’t have to drive so far,” he said.

In the spring he wants to expand the program on instructional television to two or three of the Cherokee Nation’s instructional sites. He says better training will mean higher salaries that can be spent in communities and add to the local tax income.

For Eastern Oklahoma State College, the program is just beginning and courses will be added little by little.

Langham said the program will add more courses in the spring for students to choose as a major. She said every few years the program will be evaluated to see if it is successful and worth keeping.