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October 31, 2003 :: Record Enrollment, Scholarship Needs Drive Budget Requests

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Record college enrollment and the growing participation in the OHLAP scholarship program are among the items that are driving a total budget request of more than $902.4 million for FY05. The request includes an increase of $134.6 million from this year’s current budget. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved the budget request at their meeting in Oklahoma City Thursday.

“This is a challenging budget, to say the least,” said Chancellor Paul G. Risser. “But the health of our higher education institutions and ultimately the state’s economic future depend on adequate funding. Our request is understandable given the fact that our colleges and universities are serving a record number of students with less money.”

Risser pointed out that higher education’s appropriations have been cut by 9.75 percent or $83.9 million dollars since early 2002, forcing many institutions to make major cuts in their budgets, including reducing the number of full-time faculty. Higher education’s current budget is the lowest it has been since 2000.

“It’s extremely important that our institutions be able to replace faculty they lost and retain those still in place. Trying to teach more students with fewer faculty can be a challenge, and we don’t want to jeopardize the quality of instruction our students receive,” Risser said.

The bulk of the requested $134.6 million increase would go to the top priority, state colleges and universities, which require $73.9 million in new operating funds, and would cover six main areas:

The second priority, scholarships, will require $12.8 million in new funding, $8.2 million of which would go toward the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP). The increase in OHLAP funding is necessary because of the continued increases in eligible students throughout the state.

Recent statistics show that OHLAP students tend to perform better in virtually all aspects, especially high school GPA, ACT scores and college degree completion.

The Endowed Chairs program, the third priority on the State Regents’ request list, needs an additional $45 million to help fund the 153 accounts still waiting to be matched.

“Our endowed chair program often bring additional research dollars to the state and are very important,” said Risser. “We run the risk of losing matching gifts from major donors if we can’t get this program funded adequately.”

The State Regents also approved a revised supplemental request for the current fiscal year. The revised request totals $27.4 million and includes $8.2 million for OHLAP.

“We simply can’t put Oklahoma families through the same uncertainty about OHLAP funding that they faced last year,” said State Regents’ Chairman Ike Glass. “The legislature needs to go ahead and approve the money that will be needed so students can finalize their higher education plans for next fall.”

Additional requests for the current fiscal year include $10 million for endowed chairs; $8.4 million in one-time stipends for 5,616 faculty positions; and $760,000 in required matching funds for the Langston University experiment station and extension service.

The State Regents will present their FY2005 budget request and this year’s supplemental request to lawmakers next February when they convene for the 2004 legislative session.