COLUMN: University funding should be paid equally by students, state allocations
AT A GLANCE
Gov. Mary Fallin’s office: 405-521-2342
Representative Scott Martin: 405-557-7329
Over the summer break, one of the biggest changes to OU was the tuition increase passed by the Board of Regents. Although 3 percent does not appear to be a substantial increase, especially considering the rising cost of housing and other peripheral expenses, any increase in student tuition is cause for serious concern.
As the administration of a public school, President David Boren and others often face most of the blame for rising tuition costs. The real culprit, however, is the Oklahoma government.
In Oklahoma, the past three decades have seen a steady decrease in higher education funding as a percentage of the state’s overall expenditures. The state legislature has given less and less priority to education.
In fact, OU receives only about 10 percent of its budget from state appropriations. The largest funding source is tuition and fees.
Higher education funding is possibly the only way in which the State legislature can have a direct impact on the pockets of OU students. If the state cuts funding, student fees must make up the bulk of the difference.
Another state entity that assists in overseeing the allocation of university funds is the State Regents for Higher Education. These regents are responsible for requesting and approving state budgets for higher education and are made up mostly of businesspeople, lawyers and bankers.
For the current fiscal year, the regents requested an additional $34 million in funding to colleges and universities in Oklahoma, including $27 million in fixed cost increases.
In short, universities must receive at least an additional $27 million simply to maintain the current level of service offered to students.
Unfortunately, the state only allocated a $10 million increase.
Because fixed costs are unavoidable, higher education institutions in Oklahoma must make up the $17 million difference between fixed costs and state appropriations. The burden rests disproportionately on students who, at OU, make up the majority of the university’s funding.
It is of course not possible (or likely) that the state will provide all or even most of the funding for Oklahoma higher education in the near future. What is reasonable is for the state to share equally the financial burden with Oklahoma students.
What I propose is simple: Oklahoma’s universities should be funded equally by student tuition and state allocations.
By creating a true partnership, the state legislature can reinvest in the future of Oklahoma residents, and students also will be investing in their own education.
There already are many programs designed to assist with tuition, including Oklahoma’s Promise, federal aid and scholarships. While these programs are effective on the individual level, they fail to address the overall trend in higher education funding in Oklahoma.
Legislation that defines the role and funding requirements of both government and students would solidify a sustainable and maintainable source of funding for universities.
Education at any level is an investment. By establishing a firm financial base, the initial principal will yield significant returns in the form of a highly educated workforce.
Likewise, any disparity in funding will create a regressive education vacuum in the state’s workforce. An undereducated workforce cannot then contribute back to the state’s education funding.
Appealing to administrators is not enough to create any kind of change in the funding structure of OU. Students, faculty, staff and even parents must communicate their needs directly to legislators and Gov. Mary Fallin.
Those of us involved in Oklahoma’s universities must demand that lawmakers value education as much as we do. Contact the governor’s office and your state representatives to voice your concerns about the future of Oklahoma's higher education.
Mark Brockway is a political science senior.