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Some Oklahoma college, university funds flush with cash

Oklahoma college and university presidents warn of tuition increases in wake of state budget cuts. But some of their revolving funds from tuition and fees carry large balances.

BY PAUL MONIES Published: May 22, 2011

In UCO’s case, Kreidler said the university’s governing board likes to keep about one-twelfth of its annual operating budget in reserves. That’s about $12 million, he said.

“We’ve been holding off on capital expenditures to make sure we had good reserve funds to go into next year,” Kreidler said. “But that meant we haven’t fixed up as many classrooms; we haven’t fixed sidewalks that needed to be fixed.”

Kreidler said some deans are also saving money from academic course fees over a period of several years to make classroom improvements without borrowing through the state.

“Some of the colleges are in very aggressive forms of setting money aside to be able to do that stuff for students, like building out labs,” Kreidler said.

The increases in the OU Health Sciences Center balances came mostly from a $33 million repayment from the Office of State Finance, said Catherine F. Bishop, OU’s vice president of public affairs.

“In (fiscal year) 2010, the state borrowed funds from a number of agencies and schools to cover statewide cash-flow requirements,” Bishop said in an email. “Additionally, there were increases in cash receipts realized from tobacco tax, tuition and fees, and indirect cost (overhead) reimbursements between years.”

Jonathan Small, fiscal policy director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said the size and growth of some higher education revolving funds deserves more scrutiny. He said higher education should be treated like any other state agency.

The $6.5 billion budget agreement for the 2012 fiscal year includes more than $93.7 million in transfers from various revolving funds. That includes $25 million from the unclaimed property fund and $5 million from a revolving fund at the Insurance Department.

Another $219 million to balance the budget came from leftover federal stimulus funds and cash reserves.

The remainder of the entire $500 million budget shortfall came from appropriations cuts. Higher education, which receives about 14 percent of the state’s appropriations, received total cuts of $58 million. That’s a 5.8 percent decrease from fiscal year 2011.

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