Higher Education Facing World of Hurt (Opinion)

Tim Goral's picture

Last fall, Gov. Mary Fallin, to her credit, announced an initiative to increase the number of college graduates produced in Oklahoma to 50,900 annually by 2023. That's a 67 percent increase over the 30,500 degrees and certificates state institutions currently issue each year.

About 22 percent of Oklahomans have degrees, but the national average is almost 6 percentage points higher.

"That is not good enough," Fallin lamented at her September press conference.

She's right. It isn't good enough. But how exactly does she expect an increase of 20,400 more graduates annually by 2023 as long as higher education repeatedly plays the role of legislative slasher victim?

Last session, lawmakers cut higher ed by 5.8 percent. Oklahoma reportedly ranked 12th in the nation in such cuts. When federal stimulus money was excluded, state funding declined by 9.6 percent from fiscal 2011 to FY 2012. Meanwhile, more than 16,000 students were added to the system over the past two years.

Fallin's own FY 2013 budget calls for a standstill appropriation of $945 million to higher ed, which ignores state Chancellor Glen Johnson's request of $34.7 million more. That 3.7 percent hike would bring to $980 million the total allocation sought from the Legislature.

Get real. Last year, Johnson sought a $1.2 billion appropriation for higher ed but had to settle for the $945 million.

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