More budget cuts eyed at state colleges

Thursday, August 22nd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Higher education officials have asked Oklahoma colleges and universities to plan for trimming millions from their budgets due to a deepening revenue shortfall.

Hans Brisch, chancellor for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, said a July 31 letter asked Oklahoma's 25 public colleges and universities to look at a possible 3.85 percent cut.

Responses from colleges on how cuts would affect their operations are due Aug. 30 at state regents headquarters.

The Office of State Finance reported last week that July collections for the General Revenue Fund declined $50.6 million, or 14.9 percent, from the same month a year earlier. Revenue was $45 million, or 13.5 percent, below the official estimate for the month.

Last year state regents received $851 million for public colleges and universities, $9 million less than hoped for.

``I don't see us getting that much this year considering the early revenue figures for the state,'' said Maryanne Maletz, vice chancellor for budget and finance.

If cuts occur, it would mark the second time in the past two years that public colleges and universities have had to refigure an already approved fiscal year budget.

Last year, colleges expected a 2 percent cut but experienced a similar cut of 3.85 percent when the final figures were approved. That cut was buffered by a 7 percent increase in resident tuition at most schools.

Some colleges and universities had to delay equipment purchases, freeze wages and scrutinize new hires.

Brisch said the request detailing the effects of a possible budget cut will allow regents to ``get on record'' and plead their case with the Legislature.

``As painful as these cuts can be, we are very appreciative of the Legislature's mindfulness in going lightly last year in cutting higher education funding,'' Brisch said. ``Some states are making double-digit cuts in higher education.''

Looking ahead, higher education cuts could reach into fiscal year 2004 and exceed 5 percent, Brisch said, when adding up a possible decrease in state funding with fixed cost increases involving employee health care benefits and rising campus utility bills.

Brisch said regents are trying to protect key scholarship programs for gifted students and students from middle and low-income families.

One such program is OHLAP _ Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program _ which offers tuition waivers to students from families earning $50,000 a year or less and who maintain a 2.5 grade point average and complete 17 core college-preparation courses.

Rising enrollment in the program has driven costs to a projected $4.7 million this year from $3 million last year. Projected costs next year are $9 million for 5,235 students receiving tuition waivers or help at a public or private college, officials said.