November 13, 2002

HOME

Meeting Mandatory Cost Increases Tops Higher Education’s FY2004 Budget Request

Providing health insurance for faculty, staff and other support personnel is a priority next year for Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities, especially at a time when health insurance and other mandatory costs are rising dramatically with no let up in sight. In addition, officials expect funding for several of the state’s scholarship programs to climb next year as more students become eligible.

To help keep up with these and other increases, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education recently approved a request for an additional $451.7 million in state appropriations for FY2004, bringing higher education’s total request to $1.26 billion. The additional request includes immediate needs of $51.3 million and needs of $400.4 million which, if funded, would allow institutions to approach the funding levels of peer institutions in other states and provide funds to match all endowed chairs eligible for matching money.

Mandatory costs increases in areas such as health and dental insurance, risk management insurance, teachers retirement and utilities make up nearly one half of the immediate needs, or $25 million. Health and dental insurance costs alone will increase 18 percent during calendar year 2003.

State Regents are also asking lawmakers for an additional $7.7 million to fund the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant program (OTAG) and Academic Scholars program. A total of $5.5 million would go toward OHLAP, which provides free tuition to high school seniors who meet certain academic and behavioral guidelines. The extra scholarship funding is needed to meet the demand of approximately 3,000 additional OHLAP students in FY2004, as well as for students eligible for Academic Scholars and OTAG, Brisch said.

“We want to be fiscally responsible under the current budget restrictions but also sensitive to students’ needs,” Chancellor Hans Brisch said. “Providing Oklahomans access to the state’s public higher education institutions is extremely important to the State Regents, especially during these challenging economic times. Some states have already cut student financial aid from their budgets, but we have not. We would like to keep it that way.”

The State Regents took another big step in their Brain Gain 2010 goal of significantly increasing the number of college graduates in Oklahoma by asking for an additional $13.5 million to reward institutions for their graduation and retention efforts. Regents allocated approximately $2.3 million to institutions in FY2003 but hope to reach their target of approximately $16 million, which equates to 2 percent of the total state support for public higher education.

Another immediate need for Oklahoma higher education is $5.1 million to operate new facilities coming online in FY2003 and FY2004 on various campuses across the state. Officials contend that following the most recent budget cuts, appropriations for FY2003 were not enough to operate the new facilities this year. They are hopeful that $2 million will be earmarked for that area. An additional $3.1 million will be required for those campus facilities opening in FY2004.

“Our public colleges and universities are facing the challenge of serving thousands upon thousands of new students with less money this year and possibly next year,” State Regents’ Chairman Carl Renfro said. “Having a quality higher education system requires money, and we are hopeful that the Legislature will continue to see higher education as the engine that drives our state’s economy and will look at us in a favorable way when appropriations are announced at the end of the legislative session.”

Story contact: Harve Allen, hallen@osrhe.edu