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April 3, 2003 :: Student Access a Major Key Behind New Tuition and Fee Guidelines

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Oklahoma public colleges and universities requesting future tuition or mandatory fee increases must face a four-step process as part of new guidelines established by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

During their regularly scheduled meeting in Ardmore today, the State Regents approved the tuition and fee guidelines, which go into effect immediately and cover issues that must be addressed following the passage of HB1748, the so-called tuition bill. Under the bill, higher education institutions have the flexibility to set their own tuition and mandatory fee rates. Gov. Brad Henry signed the bill March 29.

“During our initial discussions with student groups and legislative leaders, there was concern that if the bill were passed, institutions would arbitrarily set tuition and fee rates without taking into consideration the impact the increases would have on some students,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “Safeguards were then included in the bill that would help ensure that any increase in tuition and/or fees was justifiable and did not price students out of a college education.”

Under the new guidelines, if an institution seeks to have its tuition and/or fees raised, the president of the institution must first analyze the need for more resources to ensure the quality and availability of higher education offerings at the institution, balanced by students’ needs and ability to pay. He or she would then propose the tuition and fee increase to the institution’s governing board. The board would review the president’s proposals and make a recommendation to the State Regents. State Regents would review the governing board’s recommendation and, if justified, approve the increases, and report their actions to the state Legislature. Finally, the State Legislature would review the State Regents’ actions within prescribed statutory limits.

Risser said that each institution requesting a tuition and fee increase must also document how it communicated the request to its constituencies, such as students and student groups; what efforts were initiated to increase need-based financial aid proportionate to tuition; how the tuition increase will effect enrollment patterns at the institution; and what steps the institution is taking to improve efficiencies.

“With the passage of HB1748, legislators and Governor Henry have conveyed a great deal of trust and responsibility to our public colleges and universities, as well as to the State Regents. We owe it to them and to the thousands of students attending our institutions to do everything in our power to ensure that our higher education institutions remain accessible for Oklahomans and that the education they receive is of the highest quality,” Risser said.

The new tuition law permits the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, who currently rank at the very bottom in the Big 12 and 44th when compared with comprehensive universities in other states for tuition and mandatory fees, to raise tuition and mandatory fees to just below the average of their state-supported peers in the Big 12. Oklahoma’s regional universities and two year colleges, which are ranked 43rd and 32nd in the nation, respectively, for tuition and fee costs, are allowed to raise their rates just below the average of their peers in other states.

At a minimum, the State Regents will annually monitor and publish tuition and mandatory fees at peer institutions in other states. The information will show the level of tuition and fees at each Oklahoma institution and the maximum possible increases for the next academic year. In addition, the State Regents will assist in communicating the guidelines to students and student groups and provide them an opportunity to provide input both at the campus level and before the State Regents, which is at least 20 days prior to the date the proposed tuition and fee change becomes effective.

Institutions must also ensure that any revenue generated from special fees they charge to students for library materials and services; classroom and lab materials; or technology be spent for the approved purpose of the fee, according to the new guidelines.

“The state system has taken its fair share of cuts over the last year and a half, totaling more than $68 million. So, we are certainly appreciative of state legislators who have granted institutions the authority to set their own tuition rates within the prescribed parameters,” State Regents Chairman Carl Renfro said. “We are optimistic that the new tuition law will help our colleges and universities maintain the level of quality education our students have received over the years. The future of Oklahoma higher education is looking bright, and we are committed to providing an affordable college education for all Oklahomans.”