Oklahoma Higher Ed officials speak about the effects of cuts

Tuesday, April 29th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma legislators heard of layoffs and unfilled faculty positions from higher education officials on Monday.

The officials pleaded the case for greater funding before the House subcommittee on education.

The state higher education budget has seen a 7 percent less in funding and another 3 percent in reductions is possible.

Higher Education Chancellor Paul Risser said if the 10 percent cut is realized, 300 part-time faculty positions and hundreds of course section offerings would have to be eliminated.

Lawmakers quizzed higher education officials about whether out-of-state tuition waivers could be better spent on instate students' needs.

Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma waived about $18 million in tuition for out-of-state students last year, most of whom paid in-state tuition.

Risser said out-of-state waivers generated $40 million spent in Oklahoma from fees, housing and also research dollars brought into the state by graduate students.

``I understand the value, but should we be giving consideration to our in-state students first?'' asked Rep. Dale Wells, D-Cushing.

Legislators also asked where higher education officials could trim their spending but the leaders argued for all their programs.

One of the programs provides free tuition to students whose families make less than $50,000 a year.

Because of commitments already made to students, the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program needs $5 million more next year to provide tuition for students signed up in the program.

This fall, about 6,000 students are due to receive Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program scholarships. Oklahoma is trying to increase its number of college graduates.

About 20.4 percent of Oklahomans over age 25 have college degrees. The national average is 26.7 percent.

Higher education officials also were asked why Oklahoma has so many colleges and separate boards of regents.

Rep. Greg Piatt, R-Ardmore, asked whether Oklahoma has more colleges and universities than other states.

Risser said Oregon, where he came from, has 24 schools, compared with Oklahoma's 25, and both states have about the same population _3.5 million.

Rep. Barbara Staggs, D-Muskogee, said some states have universities with five or six branch campuses rather than a separate governing board for each campus.

Even with planned tuition increases, Oklahoma colleges and universities will have a hard time making up the dollars due to be cut by the Legislature.

OU and OSU are considering increases of 20 percent to 25 percent for in-state students, while the regional schools are considering increases of about 10 percent.