LONE WOLF, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma's higher education regents have approved a funding request that for the first time exceeds $1 billion.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education unanimously approved the legislative request for education funding during a Friday meeting at Quartz Mountain Resort.
Their proposed fiscal year 2003 budget includes $174 million in new funds for Oklahoma's 25 colleges and universities _ a 20.3 percent increase compared to last year's $860.6 million budget. The request also includes $22.7 million for the continued expansion of higher education programs in northeast Oklahoma.
The record-breaking budget came after regents cut $7 million from state colleges' requests to cover possible utility increases. Regents noted a drop in tax revenue from the oil and gas industry is behind an anticipated state budget crunch.
Regents said they do not expect utility costs to jump as they did last winter.
New funding is expected to cover $17.6 million in mandatory cost increases such as utilities and maintenance. Fixed-cost increases associated with the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System involve $2.4 million.
Funding aimed at sustaining the growth of higher education programs totals $22.7 million.
Also contained in the new money request is $96.7 million in institutional programs that includes $15.4 million for 237 new faculty hires and $27 million for a 6 percent faculty salary increase.
``A large portion of the new funds we received this fiscal year went to items such as debt service on capital bonds, unexpectedly high utility bills and scholarships, not to mention mandatory increases in health and retirement benefits,'' Chancellor Hans Brisch said.
``This has left institutions very little leeway in meeting their top priorities ... it is imperative that the governor and legislators continue to place higher education as a top priority in Oklahoma if our colleges and universities are to be competitive with peer institutions across the country.''