Published: July 14, 2017
A recent study found Oklahoma has slashed more higher education funding over the last five fiscal years than any other state in the nation.
Between FY 2012 and FY 2017, state appropriations for education decreased from $1,042,529,350 to $857,022,108, amounting to a 17.8 percent decrease, according to the Illinois State University study.
The only other states whose last five-year appropriations accounted for an overall decrease were Louisiana, West Virginia, Alaska, Kentucky, Arkansas and Kansas, according to the study.
The decreases range from 11.5 percent in Louisiana to a 1.8 percent decrease in Arkansas and Kansas.
To make up for those cuts, Oklahoma universities and colleges have increased tuition, cut programs, and let go of faculty and staff.
At a June 2017 Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education meeting, the regents approved tuition increases at 25 of the state’s public colleges and universities. Only two institutions didn’t raise tuition.
While all public Oklahoma universities are affected by shrinking state appropriations, the smaller schools are particularly affected, as a larger percentage of their operating budget comes from appropriations.
“In higher education, you have kind of all the colleges lumped in together, and cuts hurt every single one of us, but when you get down to the community college level, the two-year college level, the rural college level, those cuts can be much more severe,” said Jordan Adams, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College’s public information and marketing coordinator.
In Miami, appropriations at NEO have diminished by about $3 million in the last decade, with about $2 million of those cuts coming in the last three years, Adams said.
To make ends meet after last year’s cuts, the college eliminated 27 faculty and staff positions and stopped offering dental, vision and long-term disability coverage in their employee benefit plans, Adams said.
In addition to that, there have been some scholarship reductions, and the school has shuttered one academic program and two certificate programs.
“We’re going to continue to do our best with what we have to educate as many students as possible and put them into the workforce, but each cut makes that more difficult,” Adams said.
Tulsa Community College saw a nearly $9.1 million cut in state funding over the past three fiscal years, including a nearly $2 million decrease from fiscal year 2017 to fiscal year 2018, said Nicole Burgin, media relations specialist at TCC.
To offset the reductions in state funding, TCC has eliminated 200 full-time positions — about 20 percent of the college’s workforce — through attrition and layoffs over the past three years, said TCC President Leigh Goodson.
“Everybody is doing so much more work because we have (fewer) people,” Goodson said. “Everybody’s stretched thin.”
In addition, those cuts have resulted in the college not having any on-site nurses or print shops for faculty, Goodson said.
There are also fewer course sections, since the college has not filled all vacant faculty positions, meaning it’s more difficult for students to build convenient class schedules, Goodson said.
“Our state has a tremendous need for a workforce that has the skills to support our economy,” Goodson said. “As we continue to cut higher education, we get further and further from meeting that need.”
At Rogers State University in Claremore, appropriations dropped 17 percent from FY 2012 to 2017. In fiscal year 2018, university officials are expecting to lose about $700,000 more, university spokesman David Hamby said in an email.
Conditions are such that over the past few years the university has dropped some programs, like its therapeutic writing programs, in addition to its day-care center. It’s also lost dozens of faculty and staff, and the remainder will be required to take a set number of furlough days again this school year to satisfy the budget.
Last week, about six staffers left for better jobs in Tulsa or the surrounding communities, said Thomas Volturo, the university’s executive vice president for administration and finance.
The obvious consequence of fewer faculty and staff is that fewer people are available to provide services to students.
For instance, if there are fewer faculty members, there are also fewer class options for students, many of whom are attending school while working full-time and have busier schedules, Hamby said.
To prepare for the coming school years, the university is looking at ways to offset more anticipated cuts to state appropriations, such as finding ways to increase donations for scholarships for students as tuition and fees increase, Volturo said.
Even with fundraising, the long-term cuts to state appropriations make it harder for the university to educate students and help fuel the economy, Volturo said.
“It’s becoming more difficult,” he said. “But we have a dedicated staff. What they do, it’s because they love it. We’re here to help the students. “
Oklahoma has also made national headlines for leading the nation in decreasing K-12 funds. Since 2008, state formula funding per student in Oklahoma has decreased by nearly 27 percent, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analysis.
That decrease is the largest in the nation, according to the analysis, which didn’t include Hawaii, Indiana and Wyoming.