Higher Education

Jonathan Small | September 7, 2023

Wall Street Journal highlights OU’s ‘unfettered spending spree’

Jonathan Small

The University of Oklahoma recently made national news—for the wrong reasons.

An investigation by The Wall Street Journal (“Colleges Spend Like There’s No Tomorrow. ‘These Places Are Just Devouring Money.’”) found that some of the United States’ best-known public universities “have been on an unfettered spending spree” with the bill passed on to students—and OU was identified as one of the worst offenders.

Between 2002 and 2022, the Journal found enrollment at OU increased 15 percent, but tuition increased by 36 percent even after adjusting for inflation. And, once student fees were included, the combined rate of growth was even more dramatic.

“At the University of Oklahoma, per-student tuition and fees rose 166%, the most of any flagship,” the Journal reported.

During that time OU spent tens of millions of dollars acquiring, remodeling, and maintaining an Italian monastery.

Sadly, things may be even worse than The Wall Street Journal report indicated. OU has $1 billion in debt, and one official whose community bank bought bonds to finance a housing project at the college has complained that OU effectively defrauded banks.

At the same time, OU is spending substantial sums of money in court fighting to keep citizens from viewing two taxpayer-funded reports prepared by the Jones Day law firm regarding alleged decades of false claims about OU’s fundraising and allegations of sexual harassment by former OU President David Boren. (The university spent $1 million in taxpayer funds on those reports.)

OU officials’ responses to The Wall Street Journal are bizarre.

In an Aug. 10 email, OU President Joseph Harroz, Jr., responded that “the average annual cost of tuition and fees at OU, after factoring in discounts, has decreased by 6% for Oklahoma residents compared to five years ago.”

That’s only a drop in the bucket given the 166% increase over two decades, and it glosses over the fact that the modest reduction cited by Harroz occurred (in part) over his objection.

In June 2022, Harroz asked the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents to increase tuition rates by 3 percent. The Regents shot down that idea and instead maintained current rates for all but out-of-state students.

The response of one OU regent in a column published in The Oklahoman was no better.

Notably, both Harroz and the regent stressed that OU will be playing sports in the Southeastern Conference next year. Apparently, SEC football games are supposed to make up for the 166% increase in tuition and fees.

I like sports as much as anyone. But the core reason our state colleges exist is to provide an affordable education that allows people to move up the income ladder and provide for their families. If OU’s poor financial management closes the door of opportunity to Oklahoma students, weekend football games won’t make up for a lifetime of lost earnings.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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