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2009 December 28 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Okla. Chancellor Won’t Rule Out College Tuition Increase Next Year

EDMOND, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma’s chancellor for higher education said there are no plans to repeat this year’s tuition freeze at the state’s 25 colleges and universities, but added it is premature to predict tuition hikes next year to meet higher education’s funding needs.

“It’s just too early,” Chancellor Glen Johnson said. “We’re trying to be prudent, as we were last year.”

A month after the state’s Regents for Higher Education asked the Legislature for a $27.5 million increase over last year’s $1.1 billion budget and another $35.8 million to make up for budget cuts, Johnson said he is hopeful that lawmakers will consider higher education a priority as they develop a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Regents also want the state to appropriate $68.7 million in federal economic stimulus money to colleges and universities, the same amount lawmakers approved for the current fiscal year.

“There’s not a better investment the state can make,” Johnson said after the state’s regents met at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond.

Oklahoma lawmakers have ordered 5 percent budget cuts for higher education and other state agencies through June because the economic slowdown and low energy prices have created a budget shortfall.

Regents pledged last year not to raise tuition and fees for the state’s estimated 233,000 college students provided lawmakers approved their request for more money for operational needs and other fixed costs for fuel, energy and retirement expenses that were part of the proposed higher education budget.

Tuition was frozen after the Legislature approved a $30.67 million increase in the higher education budget. Mandatory fees at all institutions, with the exception of two community colleges, also remained at the previous year’s levels.

“Some institutions have done that at some sacrifice,” Johnson said. Colleges and universities have implemented hiring freezes, reduced professional service contracts, eliminated or cut back travel expenses, and moved to four-day work weeks. Many faculty and staff members have gone without pay raises this year.

Johnson said state higher education institutions have reduced overhead costs by almost $74 million through energy conservation programs and other cost-cutting measures.

In the meantime, colleges and universities have seen an average increase in enrollment of 5.8 percent due in part to stable tuition rates, according to information provided by state regents.

“That places additional pressures on the system,” Johnson said.

The average national published rate for tuition and mandatory fees this year is $7,020 for undergraduate students attending a four-year institution and $2,544 for those attending a two-year institution, according to the state regents. Oklahoma’s rates are $4,514 and $2,642, respectively. 


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