NORMAN — Although he said he is “guardedly optimistic” about budget talks in the Legislature, University of Oklahoma President David Boren painted a dire picture Tuesday of the state's long-term future if lawmakers don't make higher education a funding priority.
Boren discussed the university's funding outlook, including possible changes to tuition and fees, at a public hearing for students Tuesday.
Boren told students that Oklahoma is effectively dismantling its higher education system, withdrawing state support until public colleges and universities become quasi-private schools funded primarily through tuition, mandatory fees and private donations.
“Without any debate and without anyone in the country realizing it, we are slowly but surely doing away with public higher education in the United States,” Boren said.
Tuesday's hearing provided no definite answers about whether students will see tuition increases in the fall. State colleges and universities will set their tuition rates for the 2013-14 academic year later this summer, after lawmakers and Gov. Mary Fallin reach a budget agreement.
Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson requested a 10.2 percent increase in next year's higher education budget. That increase, which comes to $97.4 million, would primarily go to pay for the state's performance and college completion goals. That category includes costs incurred due to increased enrollment.
Whatever deal lawmakers reach will have a direct impact on how much students pay in tuition and fees, Boren said. The university must pay about $8 million in mandatory cost increases, including faculty promotions, health insurance premiums and utility costs.
After several years of cuts, OU can't simply absorb those cost increases, Boren said. If the state doesn't cover the costs, they will be shifted to students in the form of tuition and fee increases, he said.
“We can't print money,” he said.
During the current fiscal year, the state higher education system received $955.26 million from the state — essentially the same amount it received during the previous fiscal year. That total included $10 million the system received as supplemental funding during fiscal year 2011, but was then included as part of the annual base appropriation.