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May 5, 2003 :: Higher Ed Cuts Could Delay Graduation – Costing Oklahoma Families More

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As Oklahoma lawmakers look for solutions to the ongoing state budget crisis, the possibility of further cuts to higher education could have a negative effect that Oklahomans would feel for years.

Last week, the House Education Subcommittee of the General Conference Committee on Appropriations met with higher education officials to discuss what impact an additional reduction in state appropriations would have on colleges and universities and their students. Further action is expected this week.

Higher education Chancellor Paul G. Risser, along with University of Oklahoma President David Boren and Northeastern State University President Larry Williams told legislators that further cuts in appropriations could result in dramatic cuts in the number of faculty, academic programs and course sections throughout the state system.

“We think of these as the cuts that keep on hurting,” Risser said. “Reducing faculty and courses means that it will take longer for students to graduate. That’s going to hit a lot of family’s pocketbooks for many years to come.”

Risser emphasized the importance of keeping students on pace to graduate on time, saying that the state’s economy will suffer in the long run if there is a reduction in the number of college graduates.

“The latest national figures show that 26.7 percent of Americans 25 years or over possess at least a bachelor’s degree. The figure for Oklahoma is 20.4 percent. That’s not going to cut it if our state expects to be competitive in the marketplace now and in the future,” said Risser, noting that Oklahoma still needs approximately 20,000 college graduates in the state to meet the national average.

While enrollment in Oklahoma colleges continues to increase each year, funding was decreased this fiscal year and is projected to decrease again next year. Faced with cuts of nearly $70 million over the last two years, the system of colleges and universities is now faced with having to take steps that will impact Oklahoma families for years to come.

Fewer courses will be offered, scholarships may be cut, libraries will buy fewer books, class sizes will increase, graduation times will increase and needed student services such as healthcare, counseling, tutoring and job placement will be scaled back.

Continued decreases in faculty and course sections at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, may result in the delay in graduation of approximately 350 students, costing those students and their families around $3.1 million in additional educational costs. The University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond, has already reduced its faculty by 81 positions, and Oklahoma City Community College has already told seven professional staffers that their positions will be cut. Officials at East Central University, Ada, claim that further reductions in their allocations will set their library budget back 20 years.

Higher education officials say adult part-time students will feel the pinch as well with possible cuts in evening and weekend courses, which will prolong the time it takes for them to earn degrees.

OCCC, for example, has announced that it will close at noon on Fridays and all day Saturday and Sunday during the summer. The college made the move as a way to save money this year following more than $1.3 million in cuts to its operating budget, and Tulsa Community College will go to a four-day work week throughout the summer. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, Miami, may eliminate 64 course sections, which includes night school.

The long-term impact of the cuts doesn’t stop there. As programs and staff are cut, many non-state grant sources will begin to dry up. For example, officials at both OU and OSU have indicated that any more significant cuts in their budgets will severely limit their abilities to attract research dollars. The cuts could impede Langston University’s ability to acquire additional grants due to matching requirements and would likely force the university to return federal monies already spent.

“Our legislators are in a difficult position considering the prospects of further revenue shortfalls next year,” State Regents’ Chairman Carl Renfro said. “Any additional cuts to higher education’s appropriations, however, will severely cripple our institutions’ ability to serve the growing number of students enrolling in our colleges and profoundly affect our state’s economy for years to come.”

(Editor’s Note: If you would like to interview officials or students from the college or university in your area to discuss these additional cuts and their impact, please contact Ben Hardcastle with the State Regents at 1.405.225.9346.)