Regents Raise Tuition, Faculty Pay

Regents Raise Tuition, Faculty Pay



Approving a new $9.5 million budget for the upcoming year that barely covers fixed-cost increases like insurance, the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma Board of Regents has agreed to raise tuition this fall, and to grant the first pay raise in three years for faculty and staff.


The average student will pay about $289 more per year – or about the price of an MP3 player.

USAO President John Feaver called the increases “necessary under difficult budget constraints.”

Regents called upon Student Association President Mellody Bollinger to voice student opinion about the tuition increase.


“Students are supportive, as long as it goes for raises in faculty and staff pay,” Bollinger told the board.

Regent Gretchen Roddy responded “I appreciate that the students have discussed this, and are supportive of the faculty.”


Regents voted unanimously to approve all three measures. This follows three years of budget cuts under which USAO slashed more than $1 million from its budget and deferred filling 11 positions, most of which remain unfilled.


Under the new plan, students will pay $106 per credit hour, compared to $97 last year, said Regent Robert Hays. “When you consider the value of a college degree, particularly at his college, this is a not an exorbitant amount to pay for an education,” he said.


USAO President John Feaver indicataed that tuition and fees will go up at every college in Oklahoma from between 7-15 percent. “The cost of higher education is going higher in Oklahoma, but we remain among the most affordable states in which you can earn a college degree in America. We will ensure that financial aid opportunities are available to guarantee no students are denied access because they are unable to afford tuition and fee increases.”


Like other state institutions, USAO will receive a modest increase in state funds this fall: $146,700. Mandatory cost increases in insurance and risk management for the upcoming year -- $125,000 – will consume most of the new money.


“Aside from the damage done by three consecutive years of budget cutting and with numerous under-funded operational and administrative budgets, of prime concern is the fact that faculty and staff have worked without salary increases for these three years,” Feaver said. “Without jeopardizing institutional and academic quality by shifting internal resources from programs and operations, the only way to raise sufficient revenue to address salary priorities is through student tuition and fee increases.”


Not facing budget cuts for the first time in three years, the Board approved the budget for the 2004-05 fiscal year, which begins July 1, with brief discussion. About 65 percent of the college’s income is state-appropriated, said Chief Financial Officer Mike Coponiti. The rest is locally generated funds such as tuition, fees, housing and food services.


Personnel costs, including insurance, salaries and retirement contributions, make up nearly 80 percent of the USAO budget.


Unlike last year, USAO officials will carry over some monies into the reserve fund, which has been depleted as the university absorbed severe budget cuts over the last three years. USAO’s current reserve is about $400,000, with about $40,000 to be added this year, Coponiti said.


“Our chief financial officer has protected the reserve very well,” Feaver said. “We’ve been using it to cushion the damage caused by recent budget reductions. The reserve fund has been drawn down to a lower level than what we’d like, and we don’t want to touch it right now.”


This year, the Oklahoma Legislature funded higher education with about $800 million for the fiscal year. USAO’s portion of that appropriation is $6.12 million, Feaver said.


USAO’s FY 2004-2005 allocation is nearly $750,000 less than it was when he became President in the summer of 2000.


Despite recent cuts, USAO has made noticeable capital improvements to the campus have occurred in the last two years.


Greater strides have also been made in attracting private gifts for scholarships and endowments and support for special projects.


Every college across Oklahoma is facing the same budget scenario and the painful decision to raise tuition, said Regent Hays.


This past year, tuition at USAO has been $70 per credit hour, while fees have been $26.35 per hour. This fall, students will pay $76 per hour for tuition and $30 per hour for fees, which is a 10 percent increase, subject to approval by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Students from outside Oklahoma also face a 10 percent increase: $220 per hour for tuition and $30 per hour for fees.


While the cost of attending USAO may now be higher, it remains well below Oklahoma's two big research universities. USAO also remains 10 percent below its peer average nationally. In recent years, tuition and fees at USAO have been nearly 30 percent below peer institutions.


Among all four-year universities across America, Oklahoma schools rank 47th lowest in tuition and fees. Only Nevada, New Mexico and California charge less on average.


In other business, Regents approved two agreements with liaisons to federal and international institutions. Mark Stansberry of Global Trade and Development will continue to assist USAO with international relations projects and support university initiative in a variety of fundraising arenas. In Washington, D.C., Rick Meyers and Associates will continue to assist USAO in building relationships with federal agencies and lawmakers.


On the national level, USAO has worked for several years with six other former women’s colleges across America to seek federal funding for restoration of their aging, historic campuses. Collectively these schools are known as the Seven Sisters of American Higher Education.


In personnel matters, Regents approved the retirement of longtime art faculty member Hollis Howard, professor of art. The board also approved the appointment of Bergandy Kelly as executive assistant to the president and secretary to the USAO Board of Regents.


Special guests at the meeting were softball standouts Dana Askins of Moore and Kristin Kauk of Leedy. Both were instrumental in the Drover Softball Team’s extraordinary season (49-11-1) just ended. Under Coach Julie Vergenz the team entered the national tournament in May ranked fifth in the nation and seeded third at the tourney. The team earned the conference and regional championships, as well as pitcher, coach and player of the year awards.