Rogers State University was granted approval to increase 2019-2020 undergraduate tuition and fees by 3.8 percent for Oklahoma residents.
The majority of other Oklahoma regional institutions sought approval to do the same in response to mandatory faculty raises.
Starting this fall, RSU resident undergraduate students will pay an additional $270 in tuition and mandatory fees enrolled in 30 hours over one academic year, or $135 per semester, school officials report. The RSU Student Government Association was briefed on the proposed increase this spring and provided its support.
Across the state, a legislatively mandated raise for higher education faculty caused many colleges and universities to further tighten their belts, and resulted in many tuition increases being requested.
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education's Chancellor Glen Johnson said the Legislature appropriated $18 million to help pay for 3.5 percent raises for faculty. It also appropriated another $7 million for mandatory costs and $3.3 million to pay for concurrent enrollment programs.
He said that increase reversed the last eight years of successive budget cuts.
“I want to be clear, we’re very appreciative to the governor and the Legislature for the $28 million that was provided, and particularly the $18 million for the faculty pay raise,” Johnson said after the meeting. “We think that’s huge, and I think that’s really the issue that needs to be emphasized today. This is the best budget we’ve had in the higher ed system in the last nine years, and we’re extremely appreciative.”But many college presidents told state regents that while faculty raises were long overdue and will help with recruitment and retention, the money provided by the Legislature wasn’t nearly enough to cover the costs. Many schools also can’t afford to give staff long overdue raises.
An additional $5 million was contributed from the regents' reserves to help fund the raises, but colleges and universities were left to figure out how to cover the benefit costs. While some were cutting jobs or dipping into savings, many sought tuition rate increases.
To help offset the tuition increase, RSU’s 2019-2020 budget included an increase in scholarships and tuition waivers to $6.32 million, which represents 18.2% of the upcoming fiscal year budget.
RSU President, Dr. Larry Rice said, "RSU remains committed to providing a quality, affordable education to students in the communities we serve. Even with this modest tuition increase, we diligently work to secure public and private financial aid options that allowed nearly half of last year’s graduates to earn their diploma without taking student loans.”
Rice explained that state spending on higher education has decreased by 26 percent since 2008 and that Oklahoma is leading the nation for largest cuts to higher education funding between 2012 and 2017.
As a result, the cost of a college degree has shifted from state appropriations to students and their families. During RSU’s first full year as a regional university in 2000, state appropriations provided about 70 percent of RSU’s budget; this year, state appropriations provide only about 33 percent of RSU’s budget, he said.
Even with this year’s increase in state appropriations, RSU’s state allocation of $11.67 million this year, is only slightly above the state allocation of $11.37 million during its first year as a regional university in 2000-2001.
In an effort to balance the university's budget during these historic cuts to higher education, Rice said RSU faculty and staff have taken furlough days and up to one un-paid day per month in order to avoid drastic cuts to programs and personnel.
But he said the university plans to eliminate these employee furloughs starting July 1.
RSU also will provide a 3.5 percent salary increase for faculty this fall, consistent with the intent of the Oklahoma Legislature, Rice said.
"We are deeply appreciative to the Oklahoma Legislature for increasing higher education funding for the coming year, and it has helped offset a portion of the historic cuts Oklahoma colleges and universities have taken in recent years. A strong and affordable higher education system is vital for Oklahoma’s economic prosperity, as recent studies have shown that the majority of new jobs created in Oklahoma will require some level of higher education," Rice said.
Janelle Stecklein,CNHI State Reporter, contributed to this story.