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Regents solicit public input on tuition hikes

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A tuition hike is expected this year at Oklahoma's public colleges and universities, but officials say the state will remain one of the most affordable for getting a college education.

The State Regents for Higher Education held a public hearing Thursday on possible tuition and fee increases across the state's higher education system.

Chancellor Paul Risser said he expects increases will remain below 10 percent because the Legislature gave higher education an additional $87 million for fiscal year 2006. That brings state appropriations back to levels not seen since severe budget cuts began in 2002.

But Mylinda Fanj, a recent student of Tulsa Community College, said any increase is a barrier to struggling students.

``An increase will further penalize students, and we will see a decrease in students,'' she said.

Clay Pope, president of the Oklahoma Student Government Association, said his group understands a modest increase of 7 percent to 13 percent is necessary for schools to meet rising costs and give faculty much-needed raises.

``We need to keep our education competitive and keep our professors in the classroom,'' said Pope, a graduate student at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford.

Gary Wickham, an optometry professor at Northeastern State University, agreed. He said faculty members often use their own money to buy classroom supplies.

Wickham said modest tuition and fee increases should be scheduled years in advance so that students aren't subject to sharp increases during lean budget years.

``Right now, Oklahoma higher education degrees are among the most affordable in the nation so there is room for increases,'' he said.

State law mandates colleges and universities keep tuition and fees at or below the average for similar institutions in other states. Generally, costs have been much lower than the average.

The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State Universities consistently rank in the bottom of the Big 12 in tuition and fees.

Last year, tuition and fee increases for undergraduate students from Oklahoma averaged 9.2 percent.

While tuition increases at the largest universities generally stayed below 10 percent, greater increases were seen at some smaller campuses, like Conners State College, which hiked costs by 17 percent.

Two years ago, the average increase was a dramatic 18 percent.
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