OU, OSU Raise Tuition

The cost of going to a state-supported college in Oklahoma is going up.

Due to declining oil and gas prices, state revenues have dropped and there is a projected $1.3 billion budget shortfall for the next school year. While common education had negligible cuts, higher education got less money.

As a result of this year’s reduction in state funding, the overall budget for the Oklahoma State University system includes tuition and mandatory fee increases for the more than 35,000 students at OSU’s five branch campuses: OSU-Stillwater and Tulsa, OSU Center for Health Sciences, OSU-Oklahoma City and OSU Institute of Technology.

This fall, OSU-Stillwater tuition and mandatory fees will increase 7 percent for in-state and nonresident undergraduate students, as well as in-state graduate students.

The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents voted in a 7 percent increase to tuition and fees and cut about 300 jobs. The new OU budget is about $1 billion.

The university is projecting about a 16 percent drop in state funding for the next fiscal year for campuses in Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa. That means $20 million less for the OU campus and $14.4 million for the OU Health Sciences Center and OU-Tulsa.

OU President David Boren described it as the most critical budget crisis in OU’s history.

Over the past seven years, tuition at OSU-Stillwater has increased on average 2.4 percent, while state appropriations to higher education over the same period declined 11.5 percent.  Enrollment increased in the OSU system by more than 8 percent, which is roughly 3,000 students during the same period.

“We never want to increase tuition and fees, and we strive to keep any increase to a minimum,” said OSU System President Burns Hargis. “We know the slightest increase can create a financial burden for many families. This year’s budget and tuition increases reflect the hard financial realities in our state.

“Even though we have worked to bridge the gap between revenues and expenses by cutting operational costs at each institution, unfortunately it is necessary to raise tuition and fees in an all-out effort to preserve academic quality and access. The deep cuts mean tuition and fee increase were simply unavoidable.”

The increase for nonresident graduate students is 5.2 percent. The increases are based on 30 credit hours for undergraduate students and 24 credit hours for graduate students.

The OSU/A&M Board of Regents approved the fiscal year 2017 operating budget for the Oklahoma State University system during its regularly scheduled meeting this month. The $1.3 billion budget includes state appropriations of $195.6 million, which represents a 16 percent or $37.1 million decrease over the prior fiscal year.

“Despite the large state budget shortfall and sizable decrease in state appropriations for higher education, our board is set on making sure a college degree remains affordable and accessible at the public universities and colleges we oversee. We continue to be concerned about affordability and access,” said OSU/A&M Board of Regents Chairman Joe D. Hall.  “While our board appreciates the all-important public funding provided by the state, the significant decline this year prompted our board and administrators at the public universities and colleges in our system to make some very tough decisions in an attempt to do everything they can to protect the core teaching mission and maintain academic quality.”

The size of the OSU budget has grown every year for 20 years – until now. The FY2017 total budget is more than $1 million less than a year ago. The reduced budget holds employee salaries at current levels.

Hargis also said OSU-Stillwater will fill fewer open faculty positions this year and will curtail some academic programs.

He noted the adjustments are happening at a time when several programs, such as engineering, are growing due to greater industry demand.

According to the Oklahoma Public Higher Education: Economic and Social Impacts 2013 report, the estimated return on investment for Oklahoma public higher education is $4.72 for every $1 of state funding.

The same report shows that the Oklahoma public higher education system has a $9.2 billion economic impact in the state.

“The OSU system contributes to the state’s economic development and building stronger community across the state. Expanding research initiatives is critical for building the next generation economy in Oklahoma. To that end, we want to work with the governor and legislature to restore future funding and invest in higher education to ensure our state has the economic vitality to compete for job-creating capital in the years ahead,” Hargis said.

Over the last eight years, OSU’s energy management program has saved more than $35 million in utility costs and reduced consumption by 20 percent. OSU also has gained savings through changes to its purchasing card program, a self-insured health plan, and outsourcing custodial services, waste management and most of the vehicle fleet.

Other education leaders reacted to the tuition hikes.

“State appropriations account for more than 20 percent of the overall institutional budget at Langston University,” said Kent Smith, president of Langston University. “These funds provide critical academic services to our students. Since fiscal year 2015, we have eliminated $4.3 million from our institutional budget.  Candidly, the reductions in state funding are devastating for a small institution like ours.”

Langston University, which has a campus in Tulsa, has taken a 15.95 percent cut in state appropriations this fiscal year.

“This is a painful cut, and the consequences are severe,” said Smith. “The continued decline in state funding for higher education has forced us to make difficult decisions which, unfortunately, will negatively impact the student experience at Oklahoma’s only historically black college or university.”

Langston  began a hiring freeze, travel freeze and eliminated eight faculty positions and four staff positions.

“We will do everything we can to preserve our academic programs and services and stay affordable and accessible,” Smith said.

Connors State College is losing $1.1 million in state funding.

“The huge decrease in state funding for higher education will impact our ability to produce graduates for Oklahoma’s workforce,” said Ron Ramming, interim president of Connors State College.  “The $1.1 million in funding cuts for the 2016-17 academic year makes raising tuition and fees simply unavoidable.  Our proposed 8.75 percent increase will only make up 36 percent of our budget deficit. The remainder of the budget hole will be filled by maintaining hiring freezes and additional reductions in college programs, most unfortunately, scholarships.

“The idea higher education is rolling in money is an illusion. We have cut to the bone, and the measures already taken will be felt by students, faculty, staff and the communities. It’s a sad day for Oklahoma.”

Oklahoma Panhandle State University will lose $1.12 million in state funds.

“State appropriations have traditionally been a fairly stable and reliable revenue source for the OPSU budget,” said Tim Faltyn, president of OPSU. “A 15.95 percent cut this year means our budget will suffer a disastrous decrease of $1.12 million.  This size of a reduction for an institution of our size presents formidable challenges. The impact of this cut will be felt by students, faculty, and staff through reductions in academic and activity programs, freezes in travel and hiring, increases in tuition and fees, and potential further reductions to our workforce. These conditions make it exceptionally more difficult to meet the workforce need of employers in the Oklahoma Panhandle.”

Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami will have to adjust to a new budget.

“Advancing our institutional goals in this tough budget environment will take tremendous campus and community-wide sacrifices,” said Jeff Hale, president of NEO.  “A decade of shrinking support for higher education from the executive and legislative branches in Oklahoma has placed the responsibility for funding our public colleges and universities squarely on the backs of Oklahoma families. This is creating an unfortunate burden on Oklahomans across this state.  It’s terrible.”

State appropriations are almost 30 percent lower than in 2008 when he became president, he said.

“This year’s state budget agreement was championed as ‘harmless to education,’ but that is clearly not the case for higher education, Hale said. “As a result, we have an institutional budget at NEO that forces the elimination of several faculty and staff positions, a tuition and fee increase of 9 percent and elimination of programs, reductions in student scholarships and spending cash reserves in an effort to cover operating expenses.

“If the legislature and the governor expect Oklahoma colleges to operate at the same level after repeatedly slashing funds, they are in for a rude awakening when current and prospective students and families elect to attend colleges in other states where their leaders place a greater value on state-supported higher education.”