Sunday, June 26, 2022

OCPA: No way to justify OU tuition increase

No way to justify OU tuition increase
By Jonathan Small

What if university leaders managed colleges like a business and treated students like valuable customers? It appears the board of regents at the University of Oklahoma may be taking that approach.

After former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took the helm at Purdue University, officials froze tuition rates in 2013. They have not raised them since. Daniels’ leadership proves university officials can keep costs down and provide a quality education.

But it has been a different story at the University of Oklahoma, where OU President Joseph Harroz sought this week to increase student tuition by another 3 percent. That increase would have come on top of, and compounded, the impact of last year’s 2.75-percent tuition increase.

The requested tuition increase was not the result of financial hardship. Oklahoma colleges have experienced a significant increase in funding.

This year, the state appropriation to Oklahoma colleges and universities was increased by $60.6 million to a total of $873.4 million. Over a two-year span, state appropriations to Oklahoma colleges have surged $103 million.

That means state appropriations to Oklahoma colleges are edging closer and closer to a billion, yet we’re supposed to believe OU can’t get by without a tuition increase as well.

And the increase in state appropriations is just one part of the larger financial picture. Oklahoma colleges have received significant federal funding for COVID response since 2020 and will likely get a notable share of federal funds from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Oklahoma colleges have received significant amounts of new funding from a variety of sources. One reason policymakers provide that funding is to keep universities from hiking tuition and pricing students out of an education. Yet OU leadership seemed intent to hike tuition anyway.

Rather than control costs, the university continues to fund many courses, programs or degrees that provide little real-world benefit. If you go through OU professors’ bios you’ll find they focus on everything from feminist/queer criminology to women in the James Bond franchise to courses on “zombie cultures and mutants.”

Fortunately, the OU Regents rejected Harroz’s plan and kept in-state tuition flat. The regents explicitly noted the challenges facing students and their families from inflation.

That was true leadership. The regents deserve not just public praise, but strong public support.

By rejecting the tuition increase, the regents showed they understand the need to keep college affordable. Hopefully, they will continue down that path as Daniels did in Indiana. And, along the way, they should also devote more resources to genuinely worthwhile degree programs.

Oklahomans need an affordable college education. But the state also needs more graduates in hard sciences and real-world degrees, not “woke” students who think one of life’s great mysteries is how to tell the difference between a man and a woman.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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