EDMOND — Two days a week, Chelsea Clouse gets up in the morning, goes to work at a cafe in Mustang, and then goes to class at the University of Central Oklahoma.
These days, Clouse, 21, finds herself spending more time at work and fewer hours in class than she'd like. If her tuition continues to increase, she worries it will only make it more difficult to balance her education with the job she works to pay for it.
“I just study when I have time,” she said. “I do the best that I can.”
Following last week's state budget deal announcement, officials at Oklahoma's colleges and universities are working on their budgets for the coming fiscal year. The process includes deciding whether students such as Clouse will see an increase in tuition and fees in the fall.
Since she started at UCO, Clouse, a business administration major, estimates she's seen her bill for a semester grow by $800-$1,000. She's had to take fewer hours so she can work more to pay for school, she said. She doesn't get much financial help, she said. Whatever isn't covered by student loans, she pays out of pocket.
“It's all on me,” she said.
Lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin announced a tentative $7.1 billion budget deal last week. That deal included a $33 million increase for higher education, an amount that falls somewhere between the figure higher education officials requested and the one they feared they'd see.
Now, officials are looking at whether that increase will be enough to cover climbing expenses, including utilities, property insurance and new costs associated with the Affordable Care Act.
Although she said it's too early to say whether and by how much tuition might increase, Northwestern Oklahoma State University President Janet Cunningham said she was relieved that the state covered the cost of the $24 million debt service on the 2005 Higher Education Capital Bond Issue.
The bond issue, passed in 2005, was refinanced in 2010 as a part of a series of cost-cutting measures that took place at the height of the recession.
The upcoming fiscal year marks the first year since then that the agency has made a payment against both the principle and the interest. For the past two years, the agency was only responsible for an interest payment.
If that debt hadn't been covered, Cunningham said, it would have placed colleges and universities in a difficult financial position.
“That would have been a huge hit if institutions had had to try to find that,” she said.
In a statement, University of Oklahoma President David Boren gave guarded praise for the increase. Boren, who has expressed alarm about what he has called the quiet dismantling of public higher education, said the increase was encouraging.
“I am pleased that we have started to make progress, even if incremental, back toward the amount of support we received in 2008,” he said.
At a tuition hearing last week, Boren told OU students tuition increases would be likely if the university didn't see a certain amount of funding from the state.
At the hearing, Boren told students the university needed to cover about $8 million in mandatory cost increases. If those costs weren't covered by the state, he said, they likely would be shifted to students in the form of increases in tuition and fees.
Once the $24 million debt service is paid, the budget deal leaves about $9 million to cover mandatory cost increases for every institution in the state.