As college presidents, working in collaboration with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, continue to review the cost of a higher education, I’m pleased to write that our collective commitment to keeping the dream of a college education affordable, is stronger than ever.
Our commitment remains strong in spite of declining state appropriations. For the record, higher education’s share of state appropriations has declined from 18.6% to 14.4% since FY80 (the 1979-80 school year). Additionally, state appropriations as a percentage of the total higher education budget have declined from 74.2% to 35.1% since 1978. These staggering declines in state appropriations are occurring at a time of tremendous enrollment growth on our campuses. Our mandate is clear, educate more and more students with less money!
However, in spite of these declines in state appropriations, all Oklahomans should take pride in the following accomplishments of our higher education system:
Oklahoma’s higher education is recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as fifth in the nation in affordability.
In stark contrast to double digit increases in many other states, tuition increases at Oklahoma public colleges and universities have averaged only 4.5% since 2009. (Western Oklahoma State College is one of the leaders in keeping tuition costs low as evident by its decision to adopt a 0% increase in FY15).
Oklahoma has a different and better story to tell than the national college student debt landscape. College student debt in Oklahoma is 33% below the national average and nearly 50% of Oklahoma’s college students graduate with no debt.
According to the Institute for College Access report on student debt, Oklahoma has the fifth lowest student debt level in the nation.
The accomplishments noted above not only demonstrate college leader’s commitment to keeping the dream of a college education affordable, but signal the willingness of college officials to follow through on the commitment! Our state’s economic future will be the beneficiary of this commitment as colleges and universities actively engage with business and industry in strategically planning to meet industry’s skilled workforce needs. Seldom has a commitment to keeping the dream of an affordable college education been more relevant and essential to the progress of our state as now!
Phil Birdine, Ed.D. is President of Western Oklahoma State College in Altus