We face three important questions. How can we find ways to reduce total college costs for financially overburdened students and their families? As states have cut their percentage of support for university budgets by half in the last 10 years and passed the costs to students and parents, that question has become even more urgent.
A second question is how can we produce more college graduates in Oklahoma as soon as possible? National studies show that the states with the highest per capita number of college graduates have the highest per capita incomes.
Third, how can we get more help to those students who are having to work long hours at outside jobs to pay their way through college? Pressures of 40-50 hour per week outside jobs often force students to drop out. The United States has fallen in just 10 years from being first in the world in the percentage of young people going on to college to 12th place.
A new plan we have just adopted at the University of Oklahoma will help to answer all of those questions in a positive way.
It is called the “flat-rate” tuition plan. Most private universities adopted it a long time ago and now leading public universities are following suit including nearly all Big Ten universities and half of Big 12 universities.
Students will pay a flat rate for tuition and mandatory fees based on their taking 30 credit hours per year. They will pay the same rate whether they take 24 hours per year or up to 42 hours. This will give all students an incentive to take at least 30 hours per year. If they do so, they will graduate in four years. They may do it by taking 15 hours each in two semesters or 12 hours each semester and then taking six more hours in summer school online OU courses, or by taking intersession classes between semesters.
The longer it takes a student to graduate, the more it costs. Since it costs a student an estimated $13,000 per year to attend by graduating in four years instead of five, a student saves that amount. If they stay six years instead of four it costs them $26,000 more.
Colleges that have flat-rate plans have much higher four-year graduation levels. This raises the number of college graduates in the state more quickly. These four-year graduates also start earning incomes and growing the state's economy sooner than their counterparts.
Finally, revenue gains that colleges receive under the plan can be targeted to giving more scholarship help to those who need it most — working students. With more scholarship money, students working long hours at extra jobs can reduce their long hours and concentrate on their college courses.
It is a win for working students. It's a win for students and families who are trying to pay college costs. It's a win for the state because it will produce more college graduates.
Boren is president of the University of Oklahoma.