Ray Carter | June 20, 2023
OU defends tuition hike as senators call for reform
The University of Oklahoma’s recent decision to further increase tuition, despite a huge increase in state appropriations, is drawing fire from state Senate leaders and leading to calls for reform, including imposing a legislative freeze on tuition.
“The higher education system just received the largest increase in appropriations in recent history,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Adam Pugh, R-Edmond. “For any university to turn around and immediately raise tuition on students is absurd. At a time when young adults are considering the value proposition of a degreed program, saddling students and families with more debt increases the likelihood of students seeking alternative pathways for their career.”
The University of Oklahoma Board of Regents recently approved a 3% tuition increase for OU students. That compounds the effect of a prior 2.75% hike in 2021 and another 3% increase in tuition for out-of-state students in 2022.
OU imposed the tuition increase despite the state college system receiving more than $1 billion in state appropriations this year, which represents the largest increase in recent history.
OU’s actions are in stark contrast to other state colleges. The Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents, which oversees Oklahoma State University and four other colleges, has voted to keep tuition flat.
State Sen. Kristen Thompson, an Edmond Republican who is the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, said OU’s continued tuition increases harm state workforce development.
“I was extremely frustrated to see this rate increase less than a month after the Legislature gave higher education a 14.9% increase in its budget,” Thompson said. “I am a proud graduate of the University of Oklahoma. I support the university in a variety of ways, and I believe in the value of an education from this institution. However, continuing to raise tuition year after year is unsustainable and an impediment to increasing Oklahoma’s workforce, especially in critical occupations. As a business owner, if I raise the prices of the services I provide, our customers will look for a more cost-effective alternative and go elsewhere. To keep our clientele base strong, we find ways to ensure our services are affordable. I strongly suggest the University of Oklahoma find creative ways to save money over burdening future generations of Oklahomans with more debt.”
The recent 2023 Oklahoma Business Leaders Poll—a collaborative project of The State Chamber, the Oklahoma Business Roundtable, and The State Chamber Research Foundation—showed that 44% of participating business officials cited workforce and education as their top concern, with 81% identifying workforce as one of the top two issues affecting profitability and business growth.
State Sen. Ally Seifried, R-Claremore, who is the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, said college is already unaffordable for most kids.
“Higher education received over $1 billion in this year’s budget,” Seifried said. “If the University of Oklahoma wants to stay competitive and is serious about keeping students in their classrooms, they need to figure out a way to make it more affordable. Increasing tuition three years in a row will not only increase debt for students but dissuade future students from obtaining a higher ed degree at a time when we are experiencing a workforce shortage.”
OU officials downplayed the impact of the repeated tuition increases in a statement released by the university.
“University of Oklahoma administration and the OU Regents approach decisions around tuition increases cautiously and with Oklahoma families in mind,” OU’s statement declared. “At OU, we are committed to providing an education that is excellent, affordable and accessible to anyone with the will and ability to pursue it. With that in mind, over the past five years, the annual net tuition and fee costs for freshmen have decreased 5.9% for Oklahoma residents and increased less than 1% for nonresidents. The decreased cost is made possible because the university prioritizes need-based tuition waivers. OU has increased tuition waivers to students by 48%, or $20 million in the past five years. Increasing the availability of need-based aid is our No. 1 fundraising priority, and it is a major component of our $2 billion fundraising campaign, which designates $500 million toward scholarships and student support.”
But Pugh said the continual tuition increases at OU indicate that lawmakers need to act to preserve college affordability for Oklahoma students.
“Last year with SB 363, I called for a freeze on tuition and fees for public colleges and universities in Oklahoma,” Pugh said. “Sadly, that bill stalled. I hope students and parents who are shouldering this burden will call their senators and representatives to begin the conversation surrounding these continuous tuition increases by the universities. At a time when Oklahoma businesses need a skilled and educated workforce more than ever, we should be doing everything in our power to lower the cost of educational attainment, not raise it.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.