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July 5, 2006 :: Oklahoma College Students Receiving More Financial Aid, Getting Affordable Education

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A new national report on college affordability, coupled with new financial aid data from state higher education officials, shows that attending college in Oklahoma is still a good bargain.

According to a report titled “Beyond the 49th Parallel II: The Affordability of University Education,” Oklahoma ranks No. 2 in the nation among all states for affordability of a public four-year college education.

The report was released in March by the Educational Policy Institute (EPI), a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the knowledge of critical barriers facing students and families throughout the educational pipeline. Its rankings are based on the evaluation of education costs, such as tuition, fees, books and living costs, including room and board, as well as sources of funding support through student grants, loans and individual tax benefits. The report also factored in each state’s median household income. Data used in the report is from the 2002-03 academic year.

The EPI report complements additional data released today by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education which reveals that the total amount of student financial aid distributed to the state’s public colleges and universities during the last three years increased by nearly 50 percent, or $293 million. However, the amount of student loans also increased 65 percent during that same period.

“Providing a top-notch education at an affordable price has been and will always be a goal of our colleges and universities. So, needless to say, we’re concerned that student loan amounts have increased. An over-reliance on loans to fund a college education isn’t good for students or for our state economically. And that’s why the proper funding of our public colleges and universities is so vital,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said.

State lawmakers recently appropriated $131 million more for Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities for the next fiscal year that started July 1. The additional state funds helped keep tuition increases to a minimum across the state system for the 2006-07 academic year, Risser said, adding that that more than $13 million of the new monies were allocated to student aid programs.

Coming as no surprise, the State Regents’ financial aid report revealed that the state’s research universities – Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma – distributed about half of the $895 million in student financial aid in 2004-05. The regional universities distributed about one-third of the total amount, followed by the community colleges’ one-fifth.

Nearly 60 percent of financial aid recipients are female, the report also showed.

For the first time in the 31 years since the State Regents began publishing the annual financial aid report, most of Oklahoma’s independent colleges and universities have provided financial aid data for the report. In 2004-05, students attending independent institutions received nearly $241 million in financial aid.

“Increasing the number of college graduates in Oklahoma is a priority, so we must continue to provide financial assistance to as many Oklahoma college students as possible,” Regent Cheryl P. Hunter said. “We must also be very diligent in making sure that students and families are not priced out of a college education. We appreciate our legislators’ commitment to invest in higher education, and we are hopeful that they will continue to do so in the future.”

The State Regents also received information about two new federal grants that will become available this fall to students eligible for the federal Pell Grant: the Academic Competitiveness Grants and the National Science and Mathematics Access to Retain Talent (SMART) Grants.

The Academic Competitiveness Grants provide an additional $750 to first-year students and $1,300 to second-year students, so long as the students meet additional eligibility requirements, including having completed a “rigorous secondary school program of study.”

Oklahoma education officials have requested that the U.S. Department of Education recognize the curriculum required for Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP for the new grants. A response from the federal agency is expected very soon.

Under the National SMART Grants, students majoring in physical, life or computer sciences, engineering, mathematics, technology or a critical foreign language could receive up to $4,000 each year during their third and fourth years of study. They must also meet other eligibility requirements.