Oklahoma higher education officials are asking for a $90.4 million increase in next year's budget.
Higher education officials announced Thursday their budget request for the 2013-2014 fiscal year. The request comes to about $1.046 billion, a 9.47 percent increase over the current budget.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved appropriations request at a special budget meeting Thursday.
Most of the funding increase would be related to the state's college completion goals, according to the appropriations request. The largest share — $55 million — would go to offset costs brought on by enrollment increases.
The system has seen an additional 14,152 students enroll in the past four years. That enrollment spike brings with it an increase in financial aid-spending and a need for more course sections and online courses, and more faculty members to teach those classes.
Those increased costs are only partially offset by the increased revenue schools see from students' tuition dollars.
The budget proposal also includes $2.5 million for online education and degree completion technology.
Higher education system Chancellor Glen Johnson said the State Regents office would look into creating a state plan for online education. Many colleges and universities in the state already offer online courses.
Johnson said the plan would incorporate the state's Course Equivalency Project, a Regents program that provides an online tool to show students which colleges and universities will accept which transfer credits.
During the meeting, Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said online courses have a key role to play in higher education.
Generally, he said, online courses are viewed as a way to reach students who aren't able to take traditional, on-campus classes. But professors could use online tools to be more productive in their traditional classes, as well, he said, offering information online in addition to lectures and lab sessions in classrooms.
“That's what's happened in business, and it's what needs to happen in higher education,” he said. “We need to do more, better and cheaper.”
The state's college completion goals will make up the largest part of the agency's legislative agenda next year, Johnson said. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has called for a 67 percent increase in college degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 2023.
As important as that goal is, Johnson said, it can't be accomplished without more funding. Oklahoma's efforts have already been recognized as a national model by nonprofit Complete College America. But other states, including Georgia, have designated funding for their completion initiatives — something Oklahoma lawmakers haven't yet done.
This year's higher education budget comes to $955.26 million allocation — essentially the same amount the system received during the last fiscal year. That includes $10 million the system received as supplemental funding during fiscal year 2011, but was then included as a part of the annual base appropriation.
That amount is $34.7 million less than Johnson requested in a budget proposal last year. Of that amount, $27.8 million would have gone toward mandatory cost increases, such as rising insurance premiums and utility costs.