Budget & Tax , Higher Education
Cody Ray Milner | August 14, 2017
ECU closes branch campus, continues spending spree
Cody Ray Milner
One of Oklahoma’s taxpayer-funded colleges – East Central University in Ada – announced recently that it will discontinue all its programs at the University Center of Southern Oklahoma when students currently enrolled there have completed their degrees.
ECU President Katricia Pierson cited the state budget crisis as the reason the university will end its participation with the branch campus. “The state legislature has asked us to be more efficient. So we have looked at our bottom line and in Ardmore, it shows we have been in the red.” The news release states that the ECU programs have operated at a $200,000 deficit for the past two years.
Making education more efficient is a noble goal, but ECU’s budget claims shouldn’t be accepted at face value. ECU hasn’t operated at a total deficit in twenty years; in fact, the numbers show the opposite. The college’s total spending increased nearly 100% from 2000-2017 despite no change in enrollment.
In just eighteen years (and without an increase in student body or state funding) ECU went on a spending spree, doubling its total budget from $22.5 million to $44.3 million.
ECU administrators drove up revenue from tuition and fees from $6.5 million in 2000 to $28.5 million in 2017. In fact, ECU could currently stop taking state funding, federal grants, and private donations, and yet still have enough tuition money to keep operating with a 25% higher budget than in 2000!
This move is not the result of ECU lacking money to adequately teach students or support educational programs. ECU and Oklahoma’s other higher education institutions are all too eager to spend enormous budgets on non-instructional costs such as shiny new buildings, professor trips and research, student social programs, and administration salaries. Only $3.6 million of ECU’s $22 million spending spike went to educational supplies or expenses, while salaries increased by $11.4 million.
$200,000 becomes a very small number when put in perspective alongside millions of dollars every year. Now the university is faced with an opportunity. Stepping away from an entire campus visibly saves some money, but it should be accompanied by substantial cuts to rein in discretionary spending.
Oklahoma currently operates 121 higher education and career-technology campuses, which drives up total maintenance and administration costs (Tulsa Community College alone operates seven campuses). OCPA has called for eliminating redundant branch campuses and consolidating locations and administrative functions for a more efficient higher education and career tech system.
We encourage ECU to chart a path of fiscal responsibility and to refocus the university’s purpose away from expansion and providing jobs for academics and back to providing real, quality education to Oklahoma’s students. Education is too important for the future of Oklahoma’s workforce to be undercut by millions in funds going to non-instructional spending.
Statistics presented come from a forthcoming OCPA compilation of Higher Education Misappropriations, which will be released later this summer. Data are from the Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education budgets.
Cody Ray Milner
Cody is an undergraduate student at Oklahoma Christian University, majoring in Political Science and American History and minoring in International Studies and Economics. Cody has previously worked for Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, U.S. Senator James Lankford, and Americans For Prosperity.