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December 5, 2003 :: Funding and Economic Development Tops State Regents’ 2004 Legislative Agenda

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Oklahoma higher education officials have identified several priority issues they would like to see lawmakers address during the next legislative session.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education officially adopted their 2004 legislative agenda during their regularly scheduled meeting today. The agenda consists of four priority issues: funding for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP); institutional and programmatic funding; a capital bond issue; and Oklahoma’s EDGE (Economic Development Generating Excellence).

State Regents hope legislators will secure FY 2005 funding for the OHLAP scholarship program early in the legislative session. They also want lawmakers to identify and secure a permanent funding stream for OHLAP so that the state will have ample funds each year to cover additional students who have been committed to the program’s requirements.

“Securing the funding to pay for all OHLAP scholarships in FY2005 early in the session will certainly go a long way in alleviating any confusion or anxieties among the students or their parents who are already receiving the scholarship, as well as those high school seniors currently enrolled in the program,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “Our hope is that legislative leaders will quickly identify a dedicated revenue source that would solidify the program’s future and help put more college graduates in the workforce.”

OHLAP is designed to help middle and high school students from families earning $50,000 or less a year and who have demonstrated a commitment to academic success. The scholarship is good for up to five years at any public college or university in the state. It will also cover a portion of the tuition at an accredited private institution or for select courses at career technology centers.

To earn an OHLAP scholarship, students must sign up for the program in the eighth-, ninth- or 10th-grade, meet the family income requirement, attend classes regularly, complete homework assignments and achieve a minimum 2.5 (C+) grade point average in the 17 required courses. They must also achieve at least a 2.5 GPA for all courses taken in grades nine through 12. In addition, students must refrain from drug and alcohol abuse and delinquent acts.

In addition to adequate OHLAP funding, the State Regents will push for an increase in state funding that will offset the $37.4 million reduction the state system experienced from last year to this year as well as cover the increased costs of a 4 percent enrollment growth. They would also like to restore funding for key programmatic costs associated with the Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant (OTAG), Academic Scholars and the Summer Academies for Math and Science, all of which were cut in May because of lower state appropriations. Officials estimate it would take at least $141 million just to restore the per-student funding to the FY2000 level.

State Regents’ staff will also work with the Presidents Council, an organization comprised of presidents from Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities serving in an advisory capacity to the chancellor, to develop a systemwide capital plan that will be presented to the Oklahoma Legislature. The capital plan would be funded by a general obligation bond issue. Higher education officials report that the state system needs more than $3 billion in capital improvements.

And finally, the State Regents will review the final EDGE report and determine what recommendations they will support that relate to higher education and require legislative changes. They cite reducing the backlog of endowed chair funding as an example.

The goal of Oklahoma’s EDGE is to bring more wealth to Oklahoma and to increase the competitiveness of Oklahoma business and industry, as well as provide greater employment opportunities and assist in economic development efforts within the state. It is a joint project of the State Regents and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

“Getting these agenda items before our higher education and legislative leaders is a task that we are ready, willing and able to do,” State Regents’ Chairman Ike Glass said. “There are other issues facing higher education, but we must address these particular items first before any other issues take center stage. We will also be working with the legislature and the institutions on the implementation of several laws passed by the legislature last spring.”