Published April 21, 2017
Students from across the state shared concerns about college affordability Thursday during a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
"It is vital to keep tuition as low as possible so that students can achieve their goals," said Olyvia Nguyen, a criminal justice major at Rose State College. Nguyen said she has seven younger siblings and works two jobs to pay for her education.
Regents hold a public hearing each spring in advance of approving tuition and fees for each of the 25 public colleges and universities.
Sarah Wheeler told the regents she works 16 hours to pay for one credit hour at Redlands Community College. Any increase in tuition would hurt her and many friends who work two jobs and are struggling, she said.
"It's disheartening and it's sad and it breaks my heart," said Wheeler, the youngest of four children and the first to attend college.
"I'm the only one in my family to try to pursue it because they didn't even believe that it was attainable for them," she said.
Ricardo Medina, a student at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City, said the cost of books alone can be overwhelming, as much as $1,800 a semester.
Sydney Price, a sophomore psychology major, told the regents she couldn't afford to attend her dream university, even with the scholarships she earned as valedictorian of Anadarko High School.
She's attending Redlands Community College debt-free, but is concerned about the costs when she transfers to Cameron University.
"A degree has now become essential to obtain a job. My question is why do you want to further increase tuition and fees that are already causing individuals to go into debt?
"Individuals who are a part of the lower and middle class should not be penalized for their lack of resources," Price said. "College should not be only an opportunity for the wealthy; it should be affordable for everyone."
Lola Hassan, senior economics major at Langston University, said her immigrant mother came from Nigeria to pursue education.
Hassan said she takes 21 credit hours every semester and works 20 hours a week as a university tutor to fulfill that dream. She will graduate in May and go to work in Los Angeles.
"Making tuition affordable for all students is paramount," she said. "Not being able to afford education, that's where the dream stops for a lot of people."
One student spoke in favor of a tuition increase.
Joseph Hammer, a junior aviation major at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, said recent state budget cuts resulted in mandatory furlough days for professors who "break their backs for us."
"Speaking with my classmates, we'd gladly take a tuition increase ... rather than see them have to take that, because that's awful. They've already given all they can," Hammer said.
College administrators will present their proposed 2017-18 tuition and fees to the regents for approval in June after they learn how much money they will receive from the state.
Last year, the higher education appropriation was cut 16 percent. Oklahoma's 25 public colleges and universities enacted tuition increases ranging from 3.7 percent to 12.9 percent. The increases averaged 8.4 percent systemwide.
Chancellor Glen Johnson said the system must do everything possible to provide access to college at a reasonable tuition rate for students — both recent high school graduates and adults returning to college — who have the ability to achieve.
Oklahoma was recognized this year for having the sixth lowest tuition and fees and seventh lowest debt at graduation in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Johnson said nearly half the graduates have zero student debt, while those with debt have 23 percent less than the national average.