A group of students from the University of Central Oklahoma on Thursday asked the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education to keep affordability in mind when setting tuition rates.
But a faculty member from Northwestern Oklahoma State University asked the board to consider “responsible” tuition increases to allow the state's colleges and universities to maintain their educational quality.
UCO student Scott Chance said he's concerned about the long-term impact on the state if tuition increases continue.
“We really need to keep tuition increases low,” he said.
Chance, governor of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature, spoke at a public hearing on tuition and fees at the state regents meeting.
Chance told the board students recognize that the state's higher education system is generally more affordable than its counterparts in other states. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranks the system No. 7 in the nation in affordability.
But the rising cost of tuition places greater pressure on lower- and middle-income students, he said. Chance said increases also affect international students, who typically aren't eligible for financial aid.
UCO saw the largest cost increase last year, with a 7.9 percent increase for undergraduate tuition and fees. That increase took the total cost for 30 hours from $4,717 to $5,091.
The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University had the smallest percentage tuition increases. OU's tuition and fees increased by 3 percent, while OSU's rose by 2.8 percent.
The board holds hearings annually to give students, faculty members and others an opportunity to talk to regents about tuition and fees. The board will vote on any tuition changes colleges and universities propose later this year.
Colt Coldren, another UCO student, told the board he hopes to see state lawmakers come up with a budget that provides more funding for higher education. Coldren, a former Marine, attends UCO on the G.I. Bill. But other students who pay for their own education incur more debt when higher education funding is cut, he said.
Need for funding
But Steven Maier, chairman of Northwestern Oklahoma State University's faculty council, said he hopes to see regents approve modest tuition increases as a part of an effort to keep the quality of the state's institutions from slipping.
Budget cuts have led to more students per faculty member, fewer faculty hires and diminished quality of instruction, Maier said. Faculty members are teaching courses outside their areas of expertise, he said.
Having fewer faculty members means students take longer to complete their undergraduate degrees, he said.
Maier said he doesn't want to see the entire burden of funding education shifted onto students through tuition increases. But tuition increases will likely need to be part of the solution.
“It is unlikely that a single, straightforward solution will present itself,” he said.