The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education voted to approve an increase in tuition and fees for seven of the state’s 27 institutions during a board meeting via Zoom today that lasted for more than six hours.
The regents voted unanimously to approve increase requests, which will equate to a 1.3 percent average increase in tuition and fees across all institutions. Last year, 16 institutions were approved for increases, which equaled a statewide average hike of 2.5 percent.
“Our public higher education institutions operate in an extremely challenging fiscal environment,” said Joseph L. Parker Jr., chairman of the state regents in a press release. “This slight increase at some of our regional universities and community colleges will help them to continue to focus on increasing college degree completion, including the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and health professions in order to meet current and future workforce demands in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.”
On average, a full-time Oklahoma college student will pay $79.97 more for tuition and mandatory fees in 2020-21.
The University of Oklahoma was approved for no increase in tuition and fees for a third straight year. Oklahoma State University will also not increase tuition and mandatory fees in the 2020-21 academic year.
“You all know full well about another cut to state funding at 3.95 percent. That continues to challenge our ability to attract those students who could afford the least to pay the cost to go to a research institution,” OU President Joe Harroz said in his presentation. “But we’ve made that very clear, and you’ll see that [keeping classes affordable] is something in our plan that will prioritize fundraising.”
At Northeastern State University, approximately 46 percent of students graduate with no debt. The ones who do leave with an average of $20,700 in debt, said NSU President Steven Turner during his presentation. But because of the appropriation decrease from the Legislature , NSU’s budget has been reduced by $1.25 million for next year.
“That includes absorbing the [state budget cut], which for us was $1.13 million,” Turner said.
Rose State College President Jeanie Webb believes the college, celebrating its 50th anniversary, will be in full force come August.
Rose State’s budget will be down by about $1.8 million, Webb said. Rose State was approved to increase its tuition by 4.9 percent.
“We’ve got to be able to pay our bills,” Webb said.
Meanwhile, Rose State is preparing for the grand opening of their student union Aug. 25. Webb wanted to acknowledge it while looking at the bright side of things while fighting a pandemic.
“I think we have to continue looking for positive news along with COVID-19. Because I don’t believe in taking students down, as all we hear is the negative talk,” Webb said.
Rose State cut 18 full-time positions that were either vacant or required layoffs, Webb said, adding that 40 part-time positions were also removed.
COVID or not, outgoing Eastern Oklahoma State College President Steve Smith, said the college would have sought approval of a 5 percent tuition increase. But, after what seemed as a tough year at the Wilburton college, there was some optimism.
“What I’m proud to say is that we are not laying off anyone,” Smith said in his presentation to the State Regents.
The following colleges and universities received an approved increase in tuition and mandatory fees:
- Northwestern Oklahoma State University (3 percent)
- Southwestern Oklahoma State University (3 percent)
- Langston University (2.5 percent)
- Eastern Oklahoma State College (5 percent)
- Northern Oklahoma College (4.8 percent)
- Rose State College (4.9 percent)
- Western Oklahoma State College (5.7 percent)
COVID-19 hits rural institutions hard
As the COVID-19 pandemic took control of the last half of the spring 2020 academic year and forced institutions to follow an online-only format for courses, Oklahoma colleges and universities are ready to start the move back to campus. But with state appropriations being about 4 percent lower, some institutions are being forced to raise tuition to avoid the loss of jobs.
“We know that our students and families are hurting,” Turner said.
While they increase in the state average of tuition and fees for Oklahoma institutions, Northern Oklahoma College was approved for the second highest percentage increase with 4.8 percent.
“We anticipate that our tuition will continue to be the lowest in the state, even with this adjustment,” said Cheryl Evans, president of Northern Oklahoma College, which has campuses in Tonkawa, Enid and Stillwater. “We do understand the financial sacrifice that so many of our students and families make in order to seek higher education.”
While Parker called NOC’s year “one of the most difficult budget years they had to face,” Evans said the reason for the low percentage of NOC students who graduate with no student debt is because the college protects their scholarship and waiver programs and a strong private foundation.
Langston University President Kent Smith said he’s proud about what is going on at Oklahoma’s only historically Black college, no matter the challenges it’s been facing for years. After being approved for a 1.6 percent increase in tuition and fees last year, Langston was approved for an increase of 2.5 percent at Wednesday’s meeting.
“It’s never good for a president to have to ask for an increase [in tuition and fees], especially when over 71 percent of your student population are first-generation college students,” Smith said.
Including federal money, Southwestern Oklahoma State University’s budget decreased by $1.2 million for next year, SWOSU President Randy Beutler said.
“This is the 11th time I’ve presented the budget to the State Regents, and I have to tell you this is probably the toughest budget that I’ve ever presented,” Beutler said.
Beutler requested a 3 percent increase to the university in Weatherford’s tuition and fees, but he was proud to announce the amount of students who graduate with no debt.
“Fifty-seven percent of our graduated students have no debt,” Beutler said. “Those that do, it’s about $23,000. That’s something you could probably use to buy a 2018 used Honda Accord.”
Murray State College’s biggest change in expenses was their decrease to all activities throughout their budget, except for scholarships due their COVID-19 relief funds.
“We are receiving approximately $1.2 million,” McDaniel said. About $600,000 of that is for the emergency scholarships and aid to students.”
Along with the low amount of SWOSU graduate’s debt, Beutler flaunted the low costs to attend .
“On the total cost of a four-year, 30 hours education, you can see that among our 30 peers, we still rank as the most affordable institution,” Beutler said.
Murray State College’s revenue is projected to decline by approximately $1 million, compared to last year, according to Murray State President Joy McDaniel. Their biggest change in expenses came from cutting activities, although COVID-19 relief funds helped maintain activities required for students on scholarship.
“We are receiving approximately $1.2 million (in COVID money),” McDaniel said. “About $600,000 of that is for the emergency scholarships and aid to students.”
Regents approve COVID relief for some
The regents approved OU, Seminole State College and Tulsa Community College’s request to waive certain fees that some students may not be able to afford due to plans to return to campus for fall 2020. This will be a one-time exception policy waiving certain academic service fees in order to relieve the unexpected costs due to COVID-19.
“I am serving as co-chair of the Southern Regional Education Board for the COVID-19 task force,” Chancellor Glen Johnson said. “(We’ve) been working on nuts and bolt solutions, the legal issues that need to be navigated, the health issues that need to be covered and then, very specifically, looking at what starting back means.”
The three institutions are planning to hold courses in a blended format that includes some in-person classes and some online classes. However, because the decisions about course formats are made by the institution, not all students will have the chance to choose one format over the other.
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, all higher education institutions moved to online courses for the remainder of the spring 2020 term and all of summer 2020.