Funding cuts, enrollment increases put pressure on Oklahoma colleges

College tuition likely will increase next year if Oklahoma legislators approve an approximately 5 percent cut in state appropriations for higher education, several college presidents said. They said they will work to keep the increase in the single digits.
BY DARLA SLIPKE dslipke@opubco.com Published: May 19, 2011
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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.