Regents Approve Tuition Increase to Cover Budget Gaps

Duncan attorney Gretchen Roddy, left, leaves the USAO Board of Regents this month after a seven-year term on the board. Roddy was appointed in 2001 by Gov. Frank Keating. Serving his last meeting as chair, Chickasha attorney Wes Johnston, right, was presented a gavel at Tuesday's meeting of the USAO Board of Regents by USAO President John Feaver. Johnston is serving a seven-year term, appointed by Gov. Brad Henry in 2003.

Regents Approve Tuition Increase to Cover Budget Gaps


CHICKASHA -- Facing a standstill budget for the next year that won't cover rising insurance and utilities, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma Board of Regents agreed on Tuesday to raise tuition and fees by 9.6 percent this fall. As a result, the average student will pay about $195 more per trimester.

" This is undesirable but unavoidable," said USAO President John Feaver. " Students will be asked to pay more because the State of Oklahoma believes its share of the cost of higher education should not be more."

USAO will receive $8,700 in new state funding this fall but faces $199,000 in fixed cost increases such as insurance and utilities. The gap between those two numbers creates an urgent budget problem.

Regents discussed the matter at length before unanimously approving the coming year's budget and the tuition increase needed to cover the gap.

" I see no viable fiscal alternative," said Regent Neal McCaleb of Edmond.

" There is no grand remedy," said Regents Chairman Wes Johnston of Oklahoma City. " A long-term solution would involve the Legislature."

For the year ahead, USAO Regents on Tuesday approved a total projected Education and General Budget of $12.27 million. The E&G budget consists of both state appropriated and locally generated funds, which includes tuition and fees.

USAO's total economic impact on the area is much greater, however, as the college also transmits $8.1 million to students through financial aid from state and federal sources, as well as alumni and local donors combined.

To help students, USAO will raise scholarships, Feaver pledged. In fact, the USAO Foundation presented $296,000 in scholarships last year, and has promised $447,000 for the coming year, said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement.

" We are fully committing to ensuring students the highest possible return on their investment," Feaver said. " USAO is consistently rated nationally for quality and value. As the most affordable public liberal arts college in America -- in a state with the lowest price tag for public higher education among surrounding states -- we intend to continue delivering quality and value."

USAO's state allocation is $7.43 million for the year beginning July 1, which is up $8,736 from last year. That amounts to 61.3 percent of the university's annual budget. Students pay 35 percent of the cost of their education, or a total of $4.29 million. Another 3.7 percent from grants and contracts brings the total to 100 percent.

" This is a flat budget," said Mike Coponiti, vice president for business and finance. " It is mostly unchanged, except for the shift in cost from the taxpayers of Oklahoma to the students we serve."

The board approved separately the increase in tuition and mandatory fees.

" Ours is not remarkable," Feaver said. " I know of no four-year college in Oklahoma not raising tuition and fees significantly, including Norman and Stillwater. Most are just under 10 percent."

As the state budget picture became clear over the last two months, the USAO administration held discussions with students and faculty. " There is general agreement on the importance of an increase to help protect institutional quality and academic integrity," Feaver said. " Without jeopardizing institutional and academic quality by shifting internal resources from academic programs and operations, there is no option to fund these mandatory cost increases other than through a student tuition increase."

A full-time Oklahoma resident student enrolled in 15 credit hours will pay $195 more in tuition. This brings the price of in-state tuition up from $96 per credit hour last year to $109 this fall. Basic student fees will remain unchanged at $39 per credit hour.

Regents also approved a new " tuition lock policy" required under a new state law. USAO is required to offer it and school officials will work to educate students on the impact of choosing this option, Coponiti said.

Under the bill approved this year by the Oklahoma Legislature, each four-year institution must offer first-time freshmen a fixed tuition rate as long as they stay enrolled full-time for four consecutive years. According to the legislation, the guaranteed rate can be 115% of current tuition rates.

In effect, freshmen who choose the optional " tuition lock" could in theory pay one tuition price for all four years of their education. But during their first year, they will pay 15 percent more than other students, and can lose the " lock" if they drop out and return.

" Students who lock their tuition this fall will pay $22 more per credit hour than other students -- for the first year. The law doesn't lock in 'today's rate,' but a special, higher adjusted rate. If you take that lock and don't persist two years or more, you won't save anything. As it turns out, this law is mostly an incentive to stay in school and finish."

Regents approved the fixed rate of $170 per credit hour for students enrolling this fall. Students may choose this rate or pay the regular rate of $148 for combined tuition and fees, explained above.

In other business, Regents retained the firm of Casey Russell, CPA, Inc., of Oklahoma City as auditor for another year. The fee is $15,500 to perform these services, which are required by state law.

In his monthly report to the board, Feaver memorialized the late Jack Mildren, who served on the USAO Board of Regents barely two years. He died May 22 after a long battle with cancer. The former football star became Oklahoma's lieutenant governor and achieved success in the energy industry before he was appointed to the USAO Board of Regents in 2006 by Gov. Brad Henry.

" Jack Mildren's success in so many fields -- from sports and politics to energy and banking -- demonstrated his broad perspective in life," Feaver said. " He earned great respect in Oklahoma business for his vision and leadership. He had only begun to lend his leadership at USAO. He will be missed. Our thoughts are with his beautiful family in their great loss."

Regents approved curriculum changes submitted by faculty in biology, business, education, English, history, mathematics and interdisciplinary studies. The routine changes are designed to strengthen course offerings, keep up with current research and meet state and national standards, said Dr. Sanders Huguenin, vice president for academic affairs. Some changes are expressly designed to help students who wish to transfer their coursework to other colleges.

Regents authorized the university to spend up to $45,000 from oil and gas revenues for furniture to outfit the Home of the President on campus. Renovation of the 1919 structure is well underway with more than $300,000 in private gifts, Feaver said. Furniture is needed to complete the project.

The board elected Regent Teresa Adwan of Tulsa as its chair for the 2008-09 year. Regent Wes Johnston was presented an engraved gavel commemorating his last meeting as chair. Regent Neal McCaleb was elected vice chair for the coming year.

The board said farewell to Regent Gretchen Roddy, who attended her last meeting on Tuesday after a seven-year term. Roddy, a Duncan attorney, was appointed to the board in 2001 by Gov. Frank Keating. The board also welcomed a new member, Chickasha attorney John Nelson, who was appointed to the board by Gov. Brad Henry and confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate last month.

In personnel matters, Regents approved the appointment of George Galer as security officer and the resignation of four members of the staff: John Heller, Susie Ersland, John Morgan and Terry Lofland. The board also approved a list of 24 adjunct faculty members who will teach fall courses in a variety of subjects.

The next scheduled meeting of the board is Sept. 9.