The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education voted Thursday to request $927.1 million for FY 2021, which reflects an increase of $125 million or 15.6% over the FY 2020 appropriation of $802.1 million.
“The improved financial health and efficiency of Oklahoma’s colleges and universities is essential to drive the development of the state’s economy, as well as its future transformation,” said State Regents’ chair Joseph L. Parker, Jr. “The increased funding sought by our 25 colleges and universities and constituent agencies will be deployed in critical areas, such as STEM workforce development, faculty retention, deferred facility maintenance, concurrent enrollment and the long-delayed state match for the Endowed Chairs Program.”
The State Regents are requesting $50.2 million for STEM workforce development initiatives, including funds to help meet engineering and nursing workforce needs and double the number of physician residency slots in the state.
In addition, the State Regents are requesting $50 million for operational cost increases, including restoration of the National Guard Waiver and Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program scholarship programs and a 3.5% increase in faculty salaries to continue efforts to preserve quality academic instruction. The most recent national rankings from the Southern Regional Education Board list Oklahoma as 45th in the average faculty salary and show that average faculty salaries in Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities are more than 15% below other states.
Requests to fund deferred maintenance for campus infrastructure ($5.8 million), for full funding of the concurrent enrollment program for high school juniors ($7 million), and to provide endowed chair state matching funds bond authorization and debt service ($12 million) are also priorities.
“As we continue working to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on the Future of Higher Education, increasing college degree attainment in our state remains our primary objective,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “To reach our degree completion benchmarks, we must renew our efforts to increase faculty salaries, advance our commitment to STEM and workforce initiatives, restore base operational funding to support our academic mission and strategic innovations, and expand the concurrent enrollment program.”
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’s public and private institutions and career technology centers work collaboratively to reach the state’s goal of increasing the number of degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 67% by 2023.
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. In the past 12 legislative sessions, bills have been introduced or discussed that would allow weapons on campus. Each attempt has been successfully defeated to date, and ensuring similar legislation does not become law will continue to be a state system priority.
The State Regents will also continue efforts to protect the dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship. Recognized as one of the top five promise scholarship programs in the nation, Oklahoma’s Promise is considered a national model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. Nearly 90,000 students have earned college tuition scholarships through Oklahoma’s Promise since the program’s inception in 1992.