USAO President Dr. John Feaver (left) presents outgoing Chairwoman Molly Tolbert (right) with a gavel in honor for her leadership as chair of the USAO Board of Regents. Tolbert is succeeded by John Nelson (not pictured) of Chickasha.

USAO Regents approve $12.3M budget, students to pay more as state budgets flat

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Regents approved a new $12.3 million budget for the coming year at the University of Science and Arts that is virtually unchanged from last year’s budget. Approved by the State Regents in their June 21 meeting, the new USAO budget includes a 7.1 increase in student tuition and mandatory fees to cover mandatory cost increases, mostly in health insurance and utilities, of nearly $196,000.

While students weren’t enthusiastic to pay additional costs for their education, in gatherings with the president and other top administrative officers, “they were uniform in their understanding and support for the rationale underscoring a tuition and fee increase,” said USAO President John Feaver.


Even with an increase, USAO’s tuition and fees are only 63 percent of the average of its national peers. With State Regents approval, tuition will rise from $129 per credit hour to $141. A typical student taking 15 hours will pay about $180 more per trimester. Mandatory fees of $39 per-credit-hour are unchanged and have stayed level for several years.


This total budget includes $7.5 million from state funds and $4.8 million from locally generated funds such as tuition and fees.


During the past five years, USAO navigated statewide budget cuts with an austerity plan that included strict conservation in travel and purchasing, and cuts to all employees’ salary and benefits plans.


At this time last year, USAO faced the fall term with a 5.8 percent cut in state appropriations as more than $58 million was cut to higher education budgets for all institutions. USAO’s appropriation this year shows a 1.3 percent increase over last year, but the only real change is about $15,000 annually, said Mike Coponiti vice president for business and finance. The rest was a temporary funding source made permanent.


“We are a long ways from recovering the funds lost during budget cuts in recent years.”


Students are paying more, not only at USAO but at universities across America, Coponiti said. “Twenty years ago, students were paying 25 percent of the cost of their education, while the state provided about 75 percent. Today students pay about 40 percent. Whether we like it or not, that is consistent with state legislatures all across America.”


Across Oklahoma, funding for higher education is flat. The Oklahoma Legislature approved an increase of .4 percent or $3.8 million – a total of $1.012 billion – for Oklahoma’s 25 public colleges and universities. Funding for Oklahoma’s Promise, the scholarship plan for students with modest means, is $57 million, which is down $6.2 million from last year’s total.


Housing rates will rise by 3 percent this fall at USAO, which will keep USAO’s rates among the lowest in Oklahoma, Coponiti reported. For most students on campus, the increase is about $5 per month.  Among the various housing plans, for example, a 4-bedroom apartment in Lawson Hall will cost $2,115 for both fall and spring terms combined. Last year’s rate was $2,055. A shared room in Sparks Hall will cost $1,340, up from $1,300 last year. Housing rates did not increase last year.


Food plans, required for all residents of campus housing, will rise by 3.5 percent this fall, but were unchanged last year. The new rate is $1,240 per trimester for the most popular meal plan, which is up from $1,195 last year, or about $11 per month.


In compliance with a 2007 state law that requires colleges and universities to offer a guaranteed rate to first-time, full-time Oklahoma residents – good for four consecutive years – USAO Regents also approved a new “lock rate” of $162 per credit hour.  Students can choose to pay the regular rate of $141 per credit hour or the “lock rate” that won’t change for four years. At this time, no students at USAO are enrolled under the locked rate, Coponiti reported.

In other business, regents approved the purchase of 81 new computers to enhance the campus computer network. These will replace 42 faculty/staff computers, 39 machines in student labs and classrooms. Under state contract prices, 78 computers will be purchased from Dell Inc. and three from Apple Computers. Total estimated cost is $77,000.


Regents also approved $36,573 to replace and expand the campus’ wireless network. The vendor is Industry Systems LLC. In 2006, USAO became one of the first campuses to make wireless access to the Internet available from every corner of campus. This expenditure will replace aging equipment that is no longer manufactured or covered by warranties.


As required by state law, USAO will undergo a routine independent financial audit this year. Regents approved a contract for $15,000 with Becky Fleming, CPA, Inc. in Norman, after requesting proposals from 10 firms. Last year’s audit was performed by Casey Russell, CPA Inc., for $16,450. Russell performed USAO’s audit for five years in a row, which is the maximum allowed by law.


Regents elected a new chair for the coming year and expressed thanks to outgoing Chairwoman Molly Tolbert, an Oklahoma City attorney. The new chair is Regent John Nelson, a Chickasha attorney. The new vice chair is Regent Hilary Kitz of Tulsa. New board secretary is Regent David McLaughlin of Oklahoma City, who founded the global company Advance Food.


Regents approved a new faculty handbook. The 13-month-long process was aimed at five goals, chiefly to reinforce USAO’s distinct mission, said Dr. Dex Marble, vice president for academic affairs. The new handbook clarifies faculty selection, evaluation, promotion and tenure. Most notably, the policy shortens tenure review from a five-year cycle to three. Before its approval by the Regents, the policy was carefully scrutinized by the administration, the Faculty Association and legal counsel.


In his report to the board, USAO President John Feaver praised Regent Neal McCaleb, who leaves the USAO board after a seven-year term. McCaleb has served in several state leadership roles, including secretary of transportation, and in the federal government as director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs under Pres. George W. Bush. Recently he was named Red Earth’s Ambassador of the Year for 2102.


Feaver discussed an ongoing study by USAO to add new vehicles powered by compressed natural gas to its fleet.


USAO’s scholarship drive goal of $105,000 was exceeded this year by $7,000, reported Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement. Total giving to USAO exceeded $1.14 million in the past year, which is up significantly over the year before.


In personnel matters, the board approved the appointments of Jennifer Hayden as head women’s basketball coach. She graduated from Oklahoma Panhandle University. She earned a master’s in administration from West Texas A&M University. She comes to USAO from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas.


Roland Nuñez is the director of student development and assistant to the dean. He graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. His master’s in college student development is from Oklahoma State University.


Matthew Reynolds was hired as an instructor in deaf education starting Aug. 23. He is a graduate of Utah State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in deaf education. He has extensive experience working with the deaf community in San Antonio.


Christopher Garneau is assistant professor of sociology starting Aug. 23. He is working to complete his doctorate before the fall term begins. He earned a bachelor’s from Dickinson State University in North Dakota and a masters from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Dr. Jason Shaw joines the USAO faculty on Aug. 23 as assistant professor of biology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in zoology from Southern Utah University and his master’s in zoology and physiology from the University of Wyoming. His doctorate was earned at the University of Northern Colorado at Greeley.


Resignations were accepted from Dr. Ray Willis, assistant professor of biology; Dr. Stephen Kandeh, assistant professor of sociology; Adeel Siddiqui, network administrator; Melissa Howe, director of annual giving and grants; Kenneth Liles, security officer; James Ratlif, security officer; Cynthia Heath, custodian; Matthew Hibbbits, assistant baseball coach; and Sherry Lynch, administrative assistant in student services.


Retirements were approved for John Johnson, professor of computer science, and Judy Brawner, instructor in deaf education. Johnson served on the faculty for 25 years with much distinction at USAO, teaching computer science courses, leading research teams in robotics, and earning Regents awards for teaching and research. Brawner taught for 33 years in the Division of Education and Speech-Language Pathology.