College tuition rising in spite of higher public investment

OKLAHOMA CITY
Students at Oklahoma
colleges and universities are having to dig deeper into their pockets to pay
ever-increasing tuition costs although state officials say public funding of
higher education is at an all-time high.

Spending on higher education has tripled during the past 12
years, rising from a $500 million budget in 1996 to almost $1.5 million for the
fiscal year that began July 1, said House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah. The
total includes a $500 million higher education bond package approved in 2005.

But higher education officials say it is unfair to include
bond money, which pays for new buildings and renovations to others, when
examining tuition and operating costs.

While funding has increased, the percentage of higher
education’s total budget coming from the Legislature is down to about 50
percent of costs, with tuition, fees and other areas making up the rest. In the
1980s, the state covered about 75 percent of higher education expenses,
officials said.

Cargill said more needs to be done within higher education
and other agencies to find efficiencies and learn how to work within the amount
of money they are given instead of constantly seeking supplemental
appropriations each year.

“On the heels of gigantic financial investments, it is
very concerning and I have a hard time following some of the increases in
tuition,” Cargill said. “The regents need to stop trying to be the
super Legislature and micromanaging legislative decisions and spend more time
trying to find efficiencies in their system.”

Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said institutions
have streamlined by enacting energy-saving measures and outsourcing things like
food service, security and bookstore management.

“While higher education has received increases during
the last few years of healthy state revenue, this comes only after a slow
recovery from the economic downturn from 2002-2004, Johnson said. “It
wasn’t until 2006 that we exceeded the 2001 appropriation of $816
million.”

Tuition increases are needed to maintain quality until the
state starts to pick up a larger percentage of the tab, Johnson said.

“There’s not an institution here that wants to ask for
any more of a tuition increase than they have to,” he said. “The goal
we all have is to provide a quality product to students at an affordable
cost.”

Higher tuition is more than just numbers on paper for
students who have to pay it. College tuition costs rose an average of 8.6
percent this year.

“How is someone supposed to complete school when they
receive hikes every single year, forcing them to choose between work and
school?” said University of Central
Oklahoma student Jonathan Vestal.

Higher tuition costs mean the Yukon
native and criminal justice student will continue to work full time at an
insurance company to put himself through school. He can only afford to take six
credit hours each semester.

“I needed electricity more than I needed my
biochemistry lab, so I cut back on school to accommodate,” he said.

State Regent Jimmy Harrel, a banker from Leedey, was the
lone regent to vote against tuition increases last year and this year.

“It’s a real problem,” said Harrel, a former
school principal and agriculture teacher. “Tuition has gone up 70 percent
in the last five years.”

Higher education officials got $130 million more in
appropriations last year, but tuition still went up an average of 5.2 percent.

“We keep raising tuition no matter how they (lawmakers)
treat us,” he said. “Some of the smaller colleges honestly need more
(but) some of them tend to be greedy and want every part of the (state)
budget.”

Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com


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