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Higher Education

Written by Dick Pryor on Monday May 16, 2011

 

The direction of this week's Oklahoma Forum program changed in the last 24 hours before the taping began.  The announcement of a 2012 budget deal by the governor and legislative leaders and the resulting proposed 5.8% cut to Higher Education caused us to shift our focus from a more general discussion of colleges and universities to one centered more specifically on money, and the impact of cutting an additional $58 million from next year's Higher Ed budget.

Glen Johnson, Chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, expressed disappointment at the cut, following other funding reductions over the past several years.  Johnson said that about $112 million has been saved from the budgets for 2009-2012 due to various policy changes.  However, the loss of funding has forced students and their parents to pay higher tuition, and that's expected to be the case again.  OU President David Boren has already signalled that he intends to cap tuition increases to no more than 10%, but that is a still a sizable increase for already cash-strapped students. 

Our program did not focus on the state's major research institutions, but on the smaller regional universities, with the presidents of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, East Central University and Southwestern Oklahoma State University joining Chancellor Johnson.  Each of them has taken numerous steps to stretch their dollars, while maintaining the intregrity of their institutions' academic missions.

The funding cuts are potentially damaging because of the increasing enrollments in Oklahoma colleges and universities.  More than 190,000 students are enrolled in this academic year and the rate of increase in enrollment has been heading steadily upward.  The increased enrollment has stressed faculty, staff and infrastructure.  The rising tuition has forced more students to work and seek financial assistance, which forces students to stay in school longer and accumulate more debt that must be paid off following graduation.  Already, 66% of Oklahoma students receive financial aid.

Presidents on the program were:  Janet Cunningham, President of NWOSU in Alva (with additional campuses in Woodward and Enid); John Hargrave, President of East Central University in Ada; and Randy Beutler, President of SWOSU in Weatherford (with a branch campus in Sayre).

There are 25 public colleges and universities in Oklahoma, and a college education here is considered a real value, given the relatively low costs.  This program provides an opportunity for our viewers to hear from the leaders of universities which are lower profile than OU and OSU, but which are very important to the higher ed mission of providing local access to a college education on a regional level.

Thanks for watching.

Until next time,

Dick Pryor


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