University of Oklahoma President David Boren wants state lawmakers to find a balance between cutting taxes and funding critical services.
With the May 25 budget deadline looming, Gov. Mary Fallin urged lawmakers Thursday to come up with a significant cut to Oklahoma's personal income tax.
But Boren warned such a move could undermine efforts to produce more college graduates.
“It's a really defining moment for Oklahoma,” Boren said.
Boren, whose university has absorbed about $100 million in cuts and cost increases over the past three years, said further funding cuts could force the university to cut faculty numbers and eliminate certain courses.
More cuts could also spell larger tuition increases, he said.
The Oklahoma higher education system has seen its budget slashed 9.4 percent over the past four years. In that period, the University of Oklahoma has raised its undergraduate in-
Oklahoma State University has raised its tuition 9.2 percent in the same period.
In particular, Boren said, he's concerned about a Fallin-
Boren said he isn't fundamentally against tax reductions — noting that, as a U.S. senator, he voted in favor of the Reagan tax cuts — but thinks a multiyear plan is dangerous in an unpredictable economic climate.
Ultimately, Boren said, funding cuts could endanger efforts to ramp up college completion rates.
Fallin has called boosting completion a priority, and Oklahoma higher education officials have set a target of 20,400 new degrees and certificates to be awarded over the next 12 years.
“How can you be educating more with substantially less money?” Boren asked.
Earlier this year, Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma System of Higher Education, handed lawmakers a budget proposal that called for a $37 million increase over the current fiscal year.
That budget would allow the system essentially to hold steady, he told lawmakers — it would offset increases in fixed expenses like insurance premiums and utility costs, but wouldn't provide any additional revenue beyond those costs.
Earlier this month, Rose State College Terry Britton called on faculty, staff and students to contact their representatives in support of Johnson's budget proposal.
The budget increase allows colleges and universities to keep pace with inflation and address certain issues before those institutions begin to
“It will cover increases in operational costs for all institutions,” he said. “Any less means a reduction for all institutions. This is for a standstill budget.”
Optimism maintained at OSU
Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said he was “reasonably optimistic” that higher education wouldn't see a funding cut.
He took a somewhat brighter view of the financial outlook at OSU, saying when budgets are lean, the university has a range of options, such as cutting weaker programs rather than investing in them to make them stronger.
In a place as complex as a major university, he said, there are opportunities to cut the budget without cutting into the bone — although after several rounds of cuts, those options are fewer, he said.
“After all these years now, there's not a lot of fat,” he said.
Still, he said, a lack of funding could have an impact on the university's graduation rates. When the budget shrinks, he said, tuition rates could climb.
The university may also need to offer fewer sections of certain courses, meaning students may not be able to get into the courses they need to stay on track for graduation.
Although the university has had to make difficult decisions because of budget cuts over the past few years, Hargis said he appreciates the support of state lawmakers.
“The legislature and the governors have been extremely supportive of higher education. I don't want to suggest otherwise,” he said. “They have not had a lot to work with the last few years.”