IN higher education, the costs are certainly getting higher, but the quality may actually be lower.
In his “Subprime college educations” column last Sunday, George Will cited alarming statistics of student loan debt and examples of inflated administrative costs and salaries. And for all that, we're not even getting more for our money, whether as borrowers or taxpayers. Unfortunately, nearly a third of borrowers never graduate, so they have the debt without the benefits conferred by the status, if not the tangible skills, of a degree.
Will cited examples from California to New York, but Oklahoma also has its share of flaky college courses. The University of Oklahoma's course catalog includes such offerings as “Gateway to College Learning” and “First Steps” to help students transition from high school to college by teaching skills ranging from time management to test taking. While these are useful skills, we'd like to think any student with a high school diploma headed to a major research university had already mastered them.
Former University of Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart gained attention for taking ballroom dancing to postpone graduation and play another season. In addition to the basic and intermediate levels of that course, OU offers “Pilates Body Conditioning,” “Belly Dance” and the upper-level “Work, School, and Play.” Oklahoma State University's description of its Leisure 2112 Rock Climbing is “Theory and practice in the basics of technical rock climbing, bouldering and spelunking.”
While the skills gained may not be extremely marketable, at least students might pick up a new vocabulary word.
to protect rights
For years, conservatives have complained that government entities supposedly focused on civil rights issues were overly politicized. Liberals disagreed. In Oklahoma, the Legislature has voted to put the state attorney general in charge of investigating discrimination complaints and ending the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission. Some citizens worry that this will lead to lax enforcement. A group of those critics recently met to start a separate human rights group. The fact that they met at Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters indicates that concern about politicization may not have been far-fetched. The group is also jumping the gun. Attorney General Scott Pruitt will answer to the voters if he shrugs off civil rights violations; his office should be given the chance to prove its worth. At the very least, such efforts shouldn't be run out of a political party's headquarters.
Fans of identification
The Salvation Army began giving away box fans this week to help Oklahoma City residents cope with the heat that's sure to come this summer. Those eligible for a fan had to be 62 or older or have children younger than 6 months in the home or be disabled with chronic conditions such as emphysema or cardiovascular disease. Oh, they also had to provide a photo ID for all adult household members, along with proof (such as an electric bill) that they live in the city limits. The majority of those who would need a fan are low-income residents. They, and senior citizens, are among the groups that liberals say are being put upon via passage of Republican-backed laws requiring voters to show identification at the ballot box. The Salvation Army's rules for this good cause help fan the flames of rebuke to the overheated arguments against voter ID laws.
Let's don't do dues deal
Public employee unions have long depended on government to provide automatic payroll deductions for dues. So what happens when dues payment becomes voluntary? Membership plummets. The latest example comes from the Oklahoma Corrections Professional Association, which has gone from about 1,900 members to the low hundreds. The group's executive director says it's too much hassle for members to mail checks or pay dues through the Internet. Really? We bet those same individuals pay other bills that way. When Wisconsin ended automatic deductions, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees lost over half its membership. We hope Oklahoma lawmakers take note and end automatic deductions for all public sector unions. The failure to pay dues indicates government workers don't see much value in union membership. So why should the state keep propping up the unions?
New quarters (of a percent)
Note to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber: The top personal income tax rate is 5.25 percent in Oklahoma, not 5.5 percent. That's something a chamber of commerce would want to get right on a website touting the area's low tax burden. The mistake is included in what is otherwise a first-class website called ABetterLifeOKC.com, designed to give new residents and those considering a move here key information about amenities. Given the hoopla over hosting NBA Finals games, many are getting better acquainted with the city. Last year the website drew 11,000 visits and more than 8,000 unique visitors. The chamber also has a “Better Life” blog and an email newsletter. It says Boeing and Continental Resources were among corporations using the program to inform relocating employees about what the city has to offer. What the city doesn't offer, fortunately, is a municipal income tax.
The excitement of having the NBA Finals in Oklahoma City has affected more than one workplace as employees, amped up for the game, have been a bit distracted. Now some are concerned the Finals could impact the June 26 primary election, which would occur the same day as a potential seventh game of the series. That concern is misplaced. Polls close at 7 p.m. while the game wouldn't start until 8, and citizens can vote early. Those who are serious about voting will do so. Those who claim a game kept them away from the ballot box were never serious in the first place. Some poll workers may miss part of the game, but we have faith in their professionalism. And we're optimistic the Thunder will make this discussion moot by winning the series early.
What's in a name?
Speaking of the Thunder, some fans visiting this week have lamented that the team is the Oklahoma City Thunder instead of the Oklahoma Thunder. It's worth remembering that in April 2008, in advance of the Seattle SuperSonics moving here, the city council approved an agreement requiring Oklahoma City to be in the team name. That agreement focused primarily on how revenues from arena concessions and restaurants would be split. NBA Commissioner David Stern originally suggested the team be named after the state, not the city, to help lure fans from outside the metro. Mayor Mick Cornett and other city officials disagreed. Among them was council member Pete White, who said the name should reflect contributions by Oklahoma City taxpayers who approved sales tax increases that helped transform downtown and the arena. “Oklahoma City is the one that took the risk, primarily,” White said then. Stern's concerns wound up being for naught — the Thunder has captivated the state, drawing fans, including season-ticket holders, from across Oklahoma.
Tax plan: Weigh to go
Last time Oklahoma tried to raise the gasoline tax, it ended with a bang. Voters shot down the proposal by a wide margin. Yet extending a “temporary” tax on gas ended last week not with a bang but a whimper. Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill extending a 1-cent-per-gallon gas tax for another 10 years. The state taxes gasoline at 17 cents per gallon, of which 16 cents is an actual gas tax and the other penny a source of funding for the underground fuel storage tank program. But the fund isn't just paying for replacement of storage tanks. It's now buying new truck weigh stations at ports of entry around Oklahoma, something that was sorely needed. We don't expect much more than a whimper of protest about Fallin's OK for the gas tax extension, but the diversion of funds from their original purpose should always be weighed carefully.