Presidents at several Oklahoma colleges said students can expect a tuition increase next year, but they will try to keep costs down without cutting services.
That will be difficult with colleges facing their largest cuts in state appropriations in recent years, higher education officials said.
“We're into a Catch-22 situation,” University of Oklahoma President David Boren said.
Boren and Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said they will try to keep tuition increases in the single digits.
Enrollment in the state system of higher education increased by 16,000 students between the fall of 2008 and the fall of 2010, creating a need for more classes and resources. Meanwhile, state appropriations, which account for about 41 percent of the higher education budget this fiscal year, have been reduced by $44 million during the past two years.
Colleges are expecting even deeper cuts next year.
State lawmakers have proposed a 5.8 percent cut in state appropriations for higher education for the 2012 fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Legislators are considering a one-time, $10 million allocation for higher education that would reduce those cuts to 4.8 percent, bringing the total available appropriations to $955,260,277 for the fiscal year.
The state system of higher education faces a “looming crisis” if the current trend continues, Boren said.
“We cannot continue year after year to absorb cuts of this magnitude without it impacting our students and their families or the quality of education,” he said.
The Norman campus and OU Health Sciences Center have absorbed close to $100 million in cuts and fixed cost increases during the past three years, Boren said. The university has gotten $4.5 million back from tuition increases, he said.
Gov. Mary Fallin has said she hopes colleges and universities can avoid tuition increases. Fallin will have three children in college in August, said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director.
“She understands the importance of higher education as much as anyone else in the state,” Weintz said.
Colleges and universities have cut programs and positions, created hiring freezes, developed energy saving programs and implemented a variety of other measures in an effort to save $112 million between 2009 and 2012, said Glen Johnson, chancellor of the state system for higher education. Faculty and staff at many schools are facing their third year without pay increases.
Schools have tried to minimize negative effects on students, but that becomes harder every year, Johnson said. If schools can't meet students' demand for course sections, they run the risk of prolonging the time it takes a student to graduate, he said.
Johnson said it is too early to comment about tuition projections. The State Regents for Higher Education will set tuition in June.
Next year, higher education will be without stimulus funding that has helped to offset cuts during recent years.
“We have been preparing for and dreading this year for a long time,” Hargis said.
OSU's state appropriations were cut by $2.3 million this fiscal year and $2.8 million in fiscal year 2009.
Paul Sechrist, president of Oklahoma City Community College, said his school is reaching capacity without additional resources.
“I would encourage everyone to enroll early because we just may not have room as we move closer to the start of the semester,” Sechrist said.
If that happened, OCCC would consider hiring more part-time instructors, he said.
Rose State College has fewer faculty positions now than the school had three years ago, despite an enrollment increase of about 17 percent. The school has cut unnecessary travel and reduced spending on library materials, technology and other supplies, President Terry Britton said.
“We want to provide the best education that we can, but there will come a point where we may be cutting into the quality of instruction,” Britton said.