Tuition At Oklahoma Universities Holding Stimulus-Steady... For Now
By Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team
UNDATED -- Tens of millions of federal stimulus dollars are making life just a little bit easier for families whose children are enrolled at OU, OSU and any of Oklahoma's other state-supported colleges and universities.
That's because stimulus money has allowed those schools to hold the line on tuition this year, and promises to minimize any potential tuition hikes next year.
For families like the Van Meters, this is a big deal. Because in this household, not one, not two, not three, but four kids are seniors in high school. And Hannah, Ethan, Emily and Zach are all planning to go to college next year.
"I can't let myself dwell on it," Kelly Van Meter explained, "or I will really kind of freak out."
Parents Kelly and David Van Meter say they have tried to prepare for this eventuality by saving as much as possible over the years. But with in-state tuition at the state's three research universities now estimated at $14,600, and $9,900 at the eleven regional universities, they're concerned.
"The expense is actually overwhelming, it's pretty shocking," said David.
The Van Meter kids are all standout students. Their grades and achievements should be good enough to get them some scholarship money, but probably not enough, David and Kelly say, to keep the next four years from being financially difficult.
"Anything that can help keep those costs down," David added, "would be helpful. Anything."
University of Oklahoma President David Boren says the stimulus is definitely helping keep costs down at OU right now.
Things weren't looking so good just a few months ago. Mr. Boren explained: "We had a better than $10 million hole in our budget. The stimulus money came along, $10.9 million, it enabled us to not raise tuition, keep the university at its current level of excellence."
OU and other state schools received a total of $68.8 million in stimulus funding this year and are expected to get an equal amount next year. The feeling is that state schools should be able to keep tuition where it is for one more year. But then the stimulus money goes away.
"This year we'll get through it, I believe," Boren explained. "Next year, I think, we'll get through it, with a little more struggle. But that third year -- then you see a real cliff."
"There will be a hurdle," said Representative Ken Miller, "especially if revenues take a while to recover."
The Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, Miller says the hope is that the economy will turn around in time for normal revenues to rebound and make up for the loss of the stimulus money, but he knows most economists are predicting a slow recovery.
"You have to have pretty strong revenue growth to make sure that you don't fall off of a cliff, so we're mindful of FY 2012, and we're trying to be prudent in our approach to that," said Miller. "Will there be big tuition increases? We certainly hope not and we're trying to plan so that there will not be."
Ultimately, the decision to raise or not raise tuition at state colleges and universities is influenced by the funds appropriated by the Legislature, but is made by the state's Regents for Higher Education.
The Chancellor of the Regents, Glen Johnson, says there's reason for concern.
Johnson says they couldn't have frozen tuition this year without the stimulus funding, but says it could leave a hole when it goes away.
"While we're very pleased with the funding," Chancellor Johnson said, "we also understand that it's not funding that continues forever. Our hope is that the economy will spring back."
That's also David Boren's hope.
"July 1, 2011 -- I have it circled," said Boren. "We're facing a really critical situation, if the economy does not recover between now and then."
And what happens to the Van Meter kids, if tuition does spike in two years?
"Well, the reality is," David Van Meter said, with the quadruplets listening from the kitchen, "if we cannot afford it for our kids, then our kids will have to get loans. Or we have to get a loan, or we do a combination of both...One way or the other they will make it through college. It will just be expensive."