Tuition bill heads for governor

Thursday, March 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A bill to allow millions of dollars in college tuition increases without approval of the Legislature is one step away from enactment.

The state Senate on Thursday approved the measure by a 32-9 vote and sent it to Gov. Brad Henry.

Henry is expected to sign the bill, allowing the tuition increases to take place by the fall semester.

"He is on record as favoring deregulating or depoliticizing the tuition system by taking the Legislature out of the process," said spokesman Paul Sund.

The Senate vote came one day after the measure was approved in the Senate Appropriations Committee after appeals for financial help from the state's top higher education officials.

Higher Education Chancellor Paul Risser, University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Oklahoma State University President David Smidley spoke to the committee.

College officials are looking for ways to raise money to make up for $50 million in budget cuts tied to dwindling tax collections. They warned of widespread cuts in course offerings and faculty members if the tuition bill did not pass.

The Legislature is looking for ways to make up for a record $648 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The bill passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote. Six Republicans and three Democrats voted against it.

There was little debate.

Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Howe, opposed the increases. He said Legislature is dodging its responsibility by giving college officials the sole authority to raise rates.

House Bill 1748 removes a 7 percent cap on tuition increases. It permits the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to increase tuition at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University to the average of schools in the Big 12 Conference. The two schools currently have the lowest tuition in the Big 12.

Tuition at other state-supported colleges could be increased to the average of similar institutions in other states.

Tuition OU and OSU could be raised as much as 30 percent, although both universities are considering 15 percent hikes, or about $800 to $900 more a year.

The bill's Senate author, Democrat Mike Morgan of Stillwater, said the main concern of lawmakers is how the increases will affect the affordability and accessibility of a college education to average Oklahomans.

He said OU and OSU officials have vowed to increase college scholarships, tuition waivers and work programs.

RON JENKINS - Associated Press Writer