Higher education leaders are optimistic they can avoid the cut in state funding Gov. Mary Fallin proposed in her fiscal year 2015 budget.
The governor’s budget includes a 5 percent reduction for most agencies because estimates show the state will have about $188 million less to appropriate for FY15.
“I’m pushing to at least make up the 5 percent cut,” Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford, said last week.
Wright, chairman of the House Higher Education and CareerTech Committee, said he thinks lawmakers can keep the funding level and keep tuition as low as possible.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education requested an increase of 7.7 percent — or an additional $76.3 million — from the current fiscal year, but the governor has called for a cut of nearly $50 million.
Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said the state appropriation makes up about 38 percent of the total higher education budget, down from half in 2007.
The state has cut the higher education budget an average of 8.4 percent each year since 2008 at a time when enrollment is increasing and costs have gone up, Johnson said.
“It’s kind of an unsustainable crunch. The governor has Complete College America and wants to graduate more students,” Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said.
“Meanwhile, we’re cutting the dollars and, therefore, how do you make that up?”
“It’s almost hostility to higher education,” University of Oklahoma President David Boren said. “We’ve gotten out of whack.”
Boren and Hargis both support reducing the gross production tax exemption for horizontal wells to increase the available dollars for state appropriations.
Estimates of the money that would produce are pretty dramatic, Hargis said.
“I think there’s going to be a little more money (in the state budget) than they currently are working on,” he said.
Another step that would put more money in the budget is delaying an income tax cut, Boren said.
Fallin supports a tax cut to stimulate the economy and help middle class families, spokesman Alex Weintz said.
“It’s a matter of timing and balance. Let’s don’t cut revenues when we have a $188 million deficit,” Boren said.
“If the tax cut is put off while revenue is down, and if a deal is made on the gross production tax ... I think something’s going to work out,” he said.
In her State of the State address last month, Fallin suggested agencies support critical programs and operation by tapping into revolving funds.
Chancellor Johnson said the universities and colleges’ revolving funds are cash flow accounts that hold money that is obligated for projects plus one month’s expenses, which the regents require institution set aside for emergencies.
“It’s not a fund we can use,” Boren said.
Keeping tuition down
Tuition and mandatory fees account for the biggest segment of the higher education budget — nearly 46 percent.
Higher education leaders don’t want to raise those to make up for a decrease in state funding.
“If it gets too high, the students aren’t going to come here,” Hargis said.
California has increased tuition and fees 30 percent two years in a row, he said.
Those costs in Oklahoma have increased an average of 4.6 percent the past five years.
“We want to keep those down. We have bucked the national trend,” Johnson said.
“The more money we provide, it takes the pressure off universities and colleges to keep tuition and fees down,” Rep. Wright said.
Wright said if the Legislature can find more money for higher education, he would like the increase to go to concurrent enrollment programs that allow juniors and seniors to start earning college credit while still in high school. It is mandated by state law.
The regents’ budget request includes $3 million to fully fund concurrent enrollment.
It’s a matter of timing and balance. Let’s don’t cut revenues when we have a $188 million deficit.”
University of Oklahoma