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Regents Approve Budget, Tuition Increases, Contracts


Regents Approve Budget, Tuition Increases, Contracts

 

Regents approved a new $12.25 million budget that reflects modest growth – 6.7 percent over last year – at the University of Science and Arts on Tuesday. While USAO’s state appropriation of $7.37 million will rise by $226,755 this fall, most of the new money will be seized by projected mandatory cost increases in insurance, utilities, and risk management of $204,647.

Under an agenda packed with construction, technology, curriculum and hiring issues, the board approved all measures and heard reports from various campus representatives. 

To balance this otherwise flat budget, Regents also approved an increase in tuition and fees.  Students will pay 8.9 percent more this fall – or about $330 more per year on average – for their education at USAO.  This increase will add $267,800 to the total E&G budget and will allow faculty and staff to receive cost of living salary increases averaging 3 percent.

“With one of the leanest budgets of any state university in Oklahoma or the nation,” said USAO President John Feaver, “our drive to raise standards and excellence in every facet of the institution requires new money.  Students understand this, and they have responded supportively.  Despite these modest budget increases, USAO remains the lowest funded public liberal arts college in America, yet the dedication of our faculty and staff continues to earn us national rankings for quality.  Oklahoma should be exceedingly proud of its public liberal arts college.”

If there’s any enthusiasm among college leaders about moderate budget growth, it was dampened this week when state colleges in Oklahoma took a collective $6 million cut after lottery revenue was deemed insufficient to pay its projected commitment to education.  In June, which is the last month of the fiscal year, USAO will surrender $73,936 of its current fiscal year’s budget to accommodate the one-time, statewide cut.  The pain was shared evenly according to enrollment, with larger universities taking much larger cuts.

For the year ahead, USAO Regents on Tuesday approved a total projected Education and General Budget of $12.25 million. The E&G budget consists of both state appropriated and locally generated funds, which includes tuition and fees, housing contracts, etc.

USAO’s total economic impact on the area is much greater, however, as the college also transmits $8.23 million to students through financial aid from state and federal sources, as well as alumni and local donors.

“We budget cautiously and maintain an adequate reserve,” said Mike Coponiti, vice president for business and finance.  “This new budget maintains institutional integrity, but the gain in state appropriation is eaten up by the cost increases we can’t control.”

Keeping USAO’s Mission Enhancement Plan on track is the top goal, Feaver said.  “Some of the MEP goals, such as raising admission standards, bring more change than cost to bear on the college.  Compensation for faculty, however, is a critical component of the plan, and that costs real money. In fact, the lion’s share of this tuition and fee increase raises faculty and regular staff salaries the most, and administrative salaries less.”

During the meeting, Regent Jack Mildren of Norman asked Student Association President Kati Wint to weigh student response to the proposed tuition and fee increases. 

“No one likes tuition raises,” Wint said. “I attended the meeting where this proposal was presented to students.  The information was very well put together, but all of you should lobby your state representatives to get more funding for education. More state support would be better than tuition increases.”

Approved unanimously by the board, the budget and tuition/fees increases were studied and recommended by the USAO Regents Finance Committee.

Students will pay an additional $11 per credit hour enrolled: $8 more in tuition and $3 more in fees.  The additional fees include $1 more in the Student Technology Fee, the Student Activities and Health Fee and the Library Fee. This raises the basic cost of tuition to $96 per hour and mandatory fees to $39 per hour.

In recent weeks, these proposals have been discussed with students, faculty and representatives from the student newspaper.  Following approval by the USAO Regents this week, new rates must be approved by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education later this summer.

“Across Oklahoma, all state institutions are proposing tuition and fee increases this fall,” Feaver explained.  “Only a few schools will propose increases below 8.5 percent. USAO falls in the middle of the range.  An 8.9 percent increase will keep USAO’s rates below the flagship institutions but moving toward better competitiveness with our peers – sister public liberal arts colleges in other states.  This particular position of our tuition and fee structure is consistent with and reinforces our Mission Enhancement Plan and our distinctive status as Oklahoma’s public liberal arts college.”

For students already stretched by college costs, USAO will provide additional support through scholarships, waivers and state program support for needy students.  “Students who come to USAO through the Oklahoma Promise Scholarship -- and we have more than 175 of them -- will find their scholarship support adjusted for higher rates,” Feaver explained.  “We will continue to give maximum assistance to students needing financial aid, and that’s why we have been rated among the best colleges in America for graduating students with less debt.”

Regent Teresa Adwan of Tulsa expressed confidence in the plan and new rates.  “We’re still priced well below peer institutions in regional states,” she said.  “The impact on enrollment and attendance is a concern, but we remain very competitive.”

As this fiscal year closes on June 30, Coponiti also reported to the board the status of the current budget.  College officials expect to put some money into the reserve fund this year, despite having filled several new and unfilled faculty positions since last year, and with less revolving fund revenue.

“I’m fairly confident we’ll be able to put money into the reserve,” Coponiti said.  “We’re gonna get there.”  Currently USAO’s reserve exceeds $900,000, which is about 7.7 percent of its annual budget.

In other business, the board authorized the selection of an external auditor.  They chose Casey Russell, CPA Inc. of Oklahoma City from proposals submitted by four accounting firms. 

Studied by the Regents Finance Committee, the proposals ranged from Russell’s bid of $14,500 to $39,900.  The Russell firm has performed audits for USAO before, but not since 2002.  Under Oklahoma statutes, state institutions must change auditors at least once every five years. For the last five years, USAO’s audit was performed by the Tulsa firm of Tullius, Taylor, Sartain and Sartain Inc.

Given the variety of construction projects this summer and fall at USAO, funded by the 2005 statewide capital bond program and private donors, Regents agreed to pre-authorize smaller contracts this summer.  This gives USAO officials authority to enter into construction contracts of $50,000 or less, limited to projects previously approved by the board, solicited by its construction manager, and only until the Regents meet again in September.  USAO must follow all other state bidding requirements and policies.

Numerous projects are underway on campus, including renovation of the President’s Home, a total redesign and reconstruction of historic Canning Hall, expansion and restoration of the Art Annex, and more.  For larger projects, the USAO Regents Housing and Physical Plant Committee will be reconvened this summer.  But for bid contracts at or below $50,000, such as parking lots, plumbing, drywall, roofs and other smaller improvements, the school can proceed, followed by board review and approval in September.

Regents approved architectural plans by C.H. Guernsey and Co. of Oklahoma City for the total redesign of Canning Hall to serve as a model deaf education facility.  Construction Manager Cary DeHart prepared bid specifications and solicited bids.  The Regents Housing and Physical Plant Committee approved 16 bid packages to proceed with the redevelopment of Canning. More on those subprojects will be detailed in a separate story.

Regents approved curriculum changes submitted by faculty in biology, geography, history, music, psychology and interdisciplinary studies.  The routine changes are designed to strengthen course offerings, keep up with current research and meet state and national standards.  Some changes are expressly designed to help students who wish to transfer their coursework to other colleges.

Regents approved the purchase of $70,000 in new computers by USAO Information Services. This annual request works to maintain the four-year replacement cycle of all machines in the campus computer network. This will replace 40 computers for faculty and staff, 18 machines in student labs and eight classroom computers.  USAO will purchase the machines directly from Dell Computers, which has an exclusive contract with state agencies.  Part of these funds will come from the remainder of the FY-2006-07 budget just ending, and part will be provided by the new fiscal year’s budget beginning July 1.

Regents approved a new Student Handbook for 2007-08.  The revised document was presented to the board’s Policies and Procedures Committee by Dr. Eloy Chavez, dean of students.

“Changes approved by the board are fairly extensive,” Chavez said. “They include language clarification on safety and security issues such as weapons on campus, sexual harassment, career and health services, and more. Of course the process of submitting these changes involved student government leaders and other students, student services staff, and administrators. The handbook is reprinted and distributed to students every year. Periodically it requires revision to ensure that it incorporates salient policy changes and contains information students need to access services and to comply with university regulations.”

New students receive the handbook at orientation. Returning students and faculty may pick up a copy in Student Services.  The new edition also will be posted on the college website.

Regent Wes Johnston of Oklahoma City was elected chairman of the board for the coming year.  Regent Teresa Adwan of Tulsa will serve as vice chair.  Regent Neal McCaleb of Edmond will serve as secretary to the board.

As Tuesday was her last meeting as chair, Regent Patti Rogstad of Chickasha received a gavel commemorating her service.  Her term ends this month.  Johnston will assume the chair at the next meeting on Sept. 11.

As it does every summer, Regents appointed themselves and other members of the campus community to six Regents committees on academic affairs, finance, housing and physical plant, policies, public relations and student life.

In his monthly report to the board, Feaver discussed healthy progress in private fundraising at USAO.  Total gifts benefiting the university during the past year – through both the USAO Foundation and the USAO Alumni Association – have exceeded $1.5 million.  Recent gifts have included a $50,000 unrestricted gift to the Foundation, a $646,000 bequest to the Alumni Association for scholarships, and a $50,000 grant from the McCasland Foundation for library technology.

In her report to the board, Student Association President Kati Wint praised students for their active involvement in the local Relay for Life charity event on June 8. Two student teams raised a collective $3,000.  “It was a huge success, and the students were involved throughout,” she said.  Wint also reported on summer camps and other activities on campus that are keeping students active outside the classroom this summer.  She discussed student opinion about a range of campus issues, including cafeteria food and the hiring of residence hall managers.

Faculty Senate President Sean Kelly discussed the faculty’s active involvement in accreditation reports underway. He reported that faculty members have assisted with more than 80 fine arts and public events on campus in the past year and have attended more than 100 professional conferences where they presented papers or represented USAO in various disciplines.

Staff Association President Carla Robison praised USAO staff members for their enthusiastic support of the local cancer fundraiser, Relay for Life.  Together the staff raised nearly $2,300 for the project, which is double their pledge from last year.

In personnel matters, Regents approved these appointments:

  • Stephen Breerwood as assistant professor of art.  Breerwood earned his master of fine arts degree from Florida State University, and a bachelor’s from Nicholls State University.
  • Aleisha Karjala as assistant professor in political science.  She holds an associates degree in liberal arts from Long Beach (Calif.) City College and a bachelors in political science from the University of Oklahoma.  She is scheduled to complete her doctorate in political science from the University of Oklahoma.
  • Misty Shepherd as admissions counselor. She graduated with honors from USAO in December with a degree in psychology.
  • Lloyd Ball as security officer.  He holds a bachelor’s degree from Cameron University.

A change in status was approved for Laura Harrison, from secretary in public relations to admissions, and for Jacob Pike, from groundskeeper to carpenter.

Regents also approved the reappointment of 29 adjunct faculty members for fall 2007:  Kent Barker, music; Amber Bull, speech pathology; Patricia Carr, math; Robert Edmondson, sociology; and Debbie Evans, education; David Ferrell, business; Alecia Gonzales, Indian Studies; and Karen Gregg, interdisciplinary studies (IDS).

Also: Jerry Hargis, communications; Rachel Jackson, Indian studies; Brian Johnson, business; Debra Johnson, music; Wyman Kirk, Indian studies; Glenn Lane, computer science; Patsy Linn, math; Dex Marble, IDS; Ryan Mayberry, communication; Beth Ann Meyer, education; Robert Parsons, IDS; Sharon Peelor, IDS; Cyndra Pilkington, sociology; Kim Roberts, natural science; Dwight Sehon, accounting; Donna and Joe Settlemires, music; Mark Sharp, math; David Sikes, photography; Sarah Webb and Brandon Wood, art.