Higher Education

Curtis Shelton | June 22, 2017

No, Oklahoma is not “dead last” in higher education funding

Curtis Shelton

"Now we're officially dead last (nationally) in what we spend as a state in higher education."

– David Boren speaking to the OU Board of Regents on June 19, 2017

This claim, also made by UCO President Don Betz, has been used to support tuition hikes at Oklahoma’s state colleges and universities. A report by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) tells a different story. It shows that the state of Oklahoma provided $857,022,108 to higher education in the most recent fiscal year, and ranks us 31st in the nation in total state support.

The study also breaks down the numbers in terms of state population, where Oklahoma ranks 38th among the states. And this is without factoring in Oklahoma’s lower-than-average cost of living. It is clear from this report that, no matter how you look at the data, Oklahoma is nowhere near “dead last” in state spending on higher education.

The report does show that Oklahoma has reduced appropriations to higher education by 17.8% since 2012. These cuts have been an attempt by the legislature to right size higher education as a share of government expenditures, and to deal with lower revenues amidst the collapse of oil prices. The report itself points out: “Slumping energy prices appear to have taken a toll in at least some states, including Alaska, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming—states with a high economic stake in the oil and gas sector and that reported the largest declines in higher education funding between FY16 and FY17.” Before these cuts were made, Oklahoma ranked 23rd nationally in total state support for higher education. Again, these numbers do not consider differences in the cost of living, which would boost Oklahoma’s ranking even more.

U.S. Average Oklahoma Oklahoma Rank
Per Capita $273.20 $218.43 38th
Per $1,000 in Income $5.83 $4.81 34th


Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

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