OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Students at Oklahoma colleges and universities are having to dig deeper into their pockets to pay ever-increasing tuition costs although state officials say public funding of higher education is at an all-time high.
Spending on higher education has tripled during the past 12 years, rising from a $500 million budget in 1996 to almost $1.5 million for the fiscal year that began July 1, said House Speaker Lance Cargill, R-Harrah. The total includes a $500 million higher education bond package approved in 2005.
But higher education officials say it is unfair to include bond money, which pays for new buildings and renovations to others, when examining tuition and operating costs.
While funding has increased, the percentage of higher education's total budget coming from the Legislature is down to about 50 percent of costs, with tuition, fees and other areas making up the rest. In the 1980s, the state covered about 75 percent of higher education expenses, officials said.
Cargill said more needs to be done within higher education and other agencies to find efficiencies and learn how to work within the amount of money they are given instead of constantly seeking supplemental appropriations each year.
``On the heels of gigantic financial investments, it is very concerning and I have a hard time following some of the increases in tuition,'' Cargill said. ``The regents need to stop trying to be the super Legislature and micromanaging legislative decisions and spend more time trying to find efficiencies in their system.''
Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said institutions have streamlined by enacting energy-saving measures and outsourcing things like food service, security and bookstore management.
``While higher education has received increases during the last few years of healthy state revenue, this comes only after a slow recovery from the economic downturn from 2002-2004, Johnson said. ``It wasn't until 2006 that we exceeded the 2001 appropriation of $816 million.''
Tuition increases are needed to maintain quality until the state starts to pick up a larger percentage of the tab, Johnson said.
``There's not an institution here that wants to ask for any more of a tuition increase than they have to,'' he said. ``The goal we all have is to provide a quality product to students at an affordable cost.''
Higher tuition is more than just numbers on paper for students who have to pay it. College tuition costs rose an average of 8.6 percent this year.
``How is someone supposed to complete school when they receive hikes every single year, forcing them to choose between work and school?'' said University of Central Oklahoma student Jonathan Vestal.
Higher tuition costs mean the Yukon native and criminal justice student will continue to work full time at an insurance company to put himself through school. He can only afford to take six credit hours each semester.
``I needed electricity more than I needed my biochemistry lab, so I cut back on school to accommodate,'' he said.
State Regent Jimmy Harrel, a banker from Leedey, was the lone regent to vote against tuition increases last year and this year.
``It's a real problem,'' said Harrel, a former school principal and agriculture teacher. ``Tuition has gone up 70 percent in the last five years.''
Higher education officials got $130 million more in appropriations last year, but tuition still went up an average of 5.2 percent.
``We keep raising tuition no matter how they (lawmakers) treat us,'' he said. ``Some of the smaller colleges honestly need more (but) some of them tend to be greedy and want every part of the (state) budget.''