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No rallies planned for higher education

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ University administrators in Oklahoma aren't planning any rallies at the Capitol to push for more funding.

Instead, they are trying to get approval to raise tuition by as much as 15 percent per year and do away with the cap set by the Legislature on how much tuition can be raised.

``We don't have a strong tradition on either of the campuses of the two major universities to rally at the Legislature,'' said Ed Lawry, president of the Faculty Senate at Oklahoma State University. ``I guess we have left it up to the administration and to people who work closely with the Legislature.''

A coalition made up of a dozen education groups is planning a rally at the Capitol on Feb. 12. Among the proposals being pushed is a temporary penny sales tax to help financially strapped schools.

The state is facing a $600 million budget shortfall. Public education already has cut $158 million from this year's school budget.

A cap set by the Legislature allows colleges and universities in Oklahoma to raise tuition a maximum of 7 percent for in-state students and 9 percent for out-of-state students.

For this school year, the tuition increase generated nearly $30 million for higher education.

A bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Bill Nations, D-Norman, would allow OSU and the University of Oklahoma to set resident tuition based on an average of the other Big 12 schools.

``Right now, OSU ranks 11th and OU 12th in the Big 12,'' said OU President David Boren. ``Not only are OU and OSU dead last, they are also far below even the average of the Big 12.''

Even if the two universities raised tuition by 15 percent, they would remain at the bottom, Boren said.

Paul Risser, new chancellor for higher education, said he is working with Boren and OSU President David Schmidly to get a tuition bill passed. He said much of his time also will be spent developing a higher education-economic plan because he thinks it is the best way to spur the economy.

``Higher education is not coming to the governor and Legislature with its hand out,'' Risser said.

So far this fiscal year, higher education has lost more than $50 million that had been appropriated by the Legislature. The state regents' staff estimated late last year that as many as 700 classes would be cut for this semester.

OU is working on a furlough plan in case revenues fall short next month. Boren said that unless the university is allowed to boost tuition and fees closer to the Big 12 average, furloughs also might occur next school year.
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