The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education voted Thursday to request $878.2 million for FY 2020, which reflects an increase of $101.5 million or 13.1 percent over the FY 2019 appropriation of $776.7 million.
“Our state system of higher education remains committed to strengthening Oklahoma’s economy and workforce despite historic budget cuts exceeding $274 million since the recession,” said State Regents’ chair Jay Helm. “The additional funds requested for FY 2020 would begin restoring cuts of more than 26 percent to state appropriations for public higher education over the last decade, which would provide essential support for our colleges and universities in their ongoing efforts to meet Oklahoma’s degree completion benchmarks.”
The State Regents are requesting $38.7 million to provide a 7.5 percent increase in faculty salaries. The most recent national rankings from the Southern Regional Education Board list Oklahoma as 44th for four-year institutions and 46th for two-year institutions in average faculty salary. The average faculty salary at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities is more than 10 percent below their peers in other states. Additional funding for faculty salary increases is critical to state system efforts to retain and recruit quality faculty.
Strengthening Oklahoma’s workforce pipeline through the Complete College America degree and certificate completion plan continues to be a top state system priority. The State Regents are requesting $20.4 million to increase the number of faculty and instructor positions and restore course sections. This investment will provide state colleges and universities funding to meet instruction and academic enterprise requirements.
Increased funding for financial aid and scholarship programs will also be a priority for the State Regents in the upcoming legislative session. The State Regents are seeking $12.3 million to restore significantly diminished scholarship programs and fully fund the concurrent enrollment program, which provides tuition waivers to high school seniors who enroll in college coursework during their senior year.
“As we continue our work to build Oklahoma’s economy and workforce by increasing college degree completion, we must focus on increasing faculty salaries, restoring base operational funding, and fully funding the concurrent enrollment program for high school seniors,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “Low salary levels are straining public college and university faculty retention and recruitment in nursing, business, education, sciences, engineering and other high demand programs that are essential to meet Oklahoma’s workforce needs. Concurrent enrollment, which strengthens student preparation, reduces family costs for college, and decreases the time required to complete a degree, is currently funded at approximately 87 percent of the cost to our state system colleges and universities.”
Another area of focus in the upcoming legislative session will be to maintain the current law regarding weapons on higher education campuses. Oklahoma higher education supports the second amendment and gun ownership. Under current law, campus presidents have the discretion to permit the carrying of weapons when an exception is warranted. The State Regents and the presidents of all 25 state system institutions strongly believe that the current law with regard to weapons on campus is working.
The State Regents will also continue efforts to protect the dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship. Recognized by many as America’s best college access program, Oklahoma’s Promise is considered a national model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. More than 80,000 students have earned college tuition scholarships through Oklahoma’s Promise since the program’s inception in 1992.