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Tuition and fees
The State Regents for Higher Education held a teleconference meeting over tuition and fees approval guidelines via Zoom on Friday, May 29, 2020. (Screenshot)

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education heard remarks today via video conference from leaders of higher education institutions about guidelines to consider when approving or disapproving changes to tuition and fees next month.

When they hear college and university requests in June on whether to increase tuition and fees, State Regents will be considering factors such as student retention, student recruitment and — of course — COVID-19.

While giving regents a presentation, Chancellor Glen Johnson said Oklahoma ranks 12th lowest in the nation for tuition and fees, 13th lowest for student debt at graduation and 10th lowest in overall student debt.

For the 2019-2020 fiscal year, overall tuition and fees at Oklahoma’s 27 colleges and universities went up by 2.5 percent, a smaller increase than in recent years, according to Johnson. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University kept their tuition flat last year.

Today, the regents also approved $770.4 million in state appropriations for Oklahoma’s system of higher education in FY 2021. However, that represents a 4 percent cut from the FY 2020 budget, which almost all state agencies received from the Legislature this year.

However, while the main concern is the financial disruption COVID-19 may have caused to Higher Education system, some universities are taking action to keep tuition and fees leveled for another year.

University of Oklahoma President Joe Harroz said in a statement Tuesday that OU will not be increasing tuition or mandatory fees in Norman campus programs for the third straight year. Due to COVID-19, no online fees will apply for courses that have been moved online, the statement said.

“We understand the importance of our role as an outstanding public university to provide academic excellence while remaining affordable and accessible. We are committed to our purpose and our decisions are based upon it,” Harroz said in the statement. “Even in the wake of transitioning to online learning this spring — which increased our instructional costs — we were able to control the financial impact, not passing on any additional burden to our students.”

During Friday’s video conference meeting, regents’ Chairman Joseph Parker acknowledged the goal of colleges and universities re-opening their physical doors for the fall semester. But while regents are unclear if that goal will be possible for every campus at this time, regents agreed the state should be doing whatever it can to ensure the security of education for Oklahomans.

“Anything else that we can do to make sure students that are making the decision to go to college have all the information they need to successfully navigate the process of financial aid and scholarships and student loans — that is a top priority for the State Regents, and it will continue to be,” Johnson said in the meeting.

The regents’ next meeting is scheduled to take place in person at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 24, and 9 a.m. Thursday, June 25, at the State Regents Office. As is often the case, the OU Board of Regents is scheduled to meet on those same dates.

At a May meeting of the OU Board of Regents, Cameron University President McArthur said his university was considering merging some fees into tuition.

Lawsuit against State Regents

Ari Fife of the OU Daily reported on Wednesday that a parent of an OU student has filed a class action lawsuit against the State Regents on behalf of people who paid student fees to cover the costs of services and activities at any of the 25 colleges and universities they oversee.

Plaintiff Christopher Knox said in the petition that regents refused to refund students and families the unused portion of their spring 2020 semester’s mandatory fees paid for services that closed due to COVID-19.

“Rather than providing full and fair refunds, Oklahoma regents, chose to offer only limited credits for room and board to some students at some of the university, or has offered or announced no refunds at all, in all cases, has refused to refund any fees other than room and board,” the petition claims.

State Regents did not discuss the lawsuit during their meetings this week.

Read the full petition here