Budget choices have dramatically shifted college costs to students, families (Capitol Update)

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have requested an $85.1 million budget increase for next year. Good for them. The increased funding would amount to a 10.5 percent increase over the $812.8 million appropriation for the current year. A portion of the funding would be allocated toward lessening the state’s workforce shortages of teachers, nurses, and physicians. 

Oklahoma Higher Education Chancellor Allison Garrett is recommending $4.5 million towards initiatives to address Oklahoma’s teacher education shortage; $10 million to address nursing workforce needs; and $10 million for expansion of the state’s physician residency capacity. Among other things $30 million would go for campus operational needs. 

The chancellor and regents could have reasonably asked for twice the increase. Chancellor Garrett was quoted recently in Quorum Call saying, “We have the dubious distinction of being the state that had the highest decline in state funding in the 2010 to 2020 decade at over 37 percent and during that decade the average state went up in funding of higher education about 10 percent. The governor talks about Top 10 and I’m all about Top 10 and wanting to find the Top 10 for higher education, but we are bottom 10 for funding, for FTE (full-time equivalent), and that’s despite a decline in the number of FTEs we’re serving.”

A recent report by the Urban Institute shows that Oklahoma ranks 22nd in per FTE student spending by state and local government at $30,224. Seems pretty good, but here’s the unfortunate part. When you take away tuition and fees, Oklahoma ranks 42nd, spending only $12,728 per FTE student, so the chancellor is correct in saying we are bottom 10 in funding for higher education. Texas, on the other hand, goes from 16th to 8th (from the top) when making the same comparison. 

This means that during the past decade plus, Oklahoma has dramatically shifted the burden of a public college education from the state to students and their families. And that’s in a state that ranks in the bottom 10 in per capita personal income according to Governor Stitt’s state “scoreboard.” No wonder we have workforce shortages in jobs that require higher education. And no wonder Oklahoma students are opting against piling up debt to go to college.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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