Monday, February 15, 2010

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
Several years ago, the Oklahoma legislature gave up the authority to set tuition prices at the state’s colleges and universities. Lawmakers passed a law that established tuition increases based on tuition rates at colleges and universities at states within the region. While the lawmaker’s intentions may have been good, the problem is that Oklahoma is near the bottom in the region in every economical category. It’s like basing your household budget on your richest neighbors. State Representative Steve Kouplen, (D-Beggs) wants to change that and has introduced a proposal this legislative session that would tie tuition increases to inflation or the CPI (Consumer Price Index). Kouplen says he wants to ‘protect’ Oklahoma’s college students by regulating tuition increases. In an Sunday editorial, The Oklahoman attacked Kouplen’s proposal calling it an attack on the free market system.
The Oklahoman is technically right about Kouplen’s proposal- it does fly in the face of free enterprise. The problem is most college students are not able to ‘shop’ around and utilize the free enterprise system when a tuition increase at their school is announced. Most colleges and universities find creative ways to not accept all credit hours earned at another school. When a student transfers, they lose hours. Because they have to take more courses due to the transfer, they often are ‘locked in’ at a college and have no other alternative but to accept the tuition increases. But Oklahoma higher education has more problems than tuition rates.
Only twenty five percent of Oklahoma high school grads go to college- a third of those dropping out before graduation. Only seventeen percent of Oklahoma high school graduates finish college. Less than fifty percent of Oklahoma college graduates stay in the state when they graduate college. That means Oklahoma educates, and then exports our best and brightest out of state. These kids don’t leave the state because they hate Oklahoma, but because there are no opportunities to use their newly acquired education in the state. The good paying jobs are not here for a variety of reasons- primarily due to poor leadership(Democrat/one party rule for almost a century) over an extended period of time.
Oklahoma higher education is big business as evidenced by the fact that the various Presidents of the state’s colleges and universities are the highest paid employees on the state payroll. For example, Cindy Ross at Cameron makes $259,200 annually. OU President David Boren, $383,844, and OSU President Burns Hargis, $329,500. That’s mighty good money in a state with a per capita income of around $34,000. That information is available at thanks to Senator Randy Brogdon and Representative Jason Murphy.
Colleges and universities get a large part of their budget from the state- aka Oklahoma taxpayers. Higher education is the second largest item in the state budget, but because private money is thrown into the pot, complete transparency on how the public money is being spent is not yet available to the taxpayer. College tuition, housing, books, and fees go up every year and the higher education ‘business’ gets bigger, but with no accountability to their largest partner, aka the taxpayer.
A large amount of revenue generated by Oklahoma college and universities is the remedial courses for incoming freshman. Oklahoma colleges/universities are teaching high school courses to college students because their high school teachers/parents failed to prepare them. (We wouldn’t dare blame the kid for failing to study) From a business standpoint, this is a growth segment for higher education, so it’s doubtful they will discontinue them nor will they raise their standards and force common education to send them students that are prepared for college level work.
Testing indicates Oklahoma’s colleges and universities do a decent job in educating students, but the real problem is retaining those college graduates in the state. Part of the problem is the abysmal job the colleges/universities do with their so called placement services. The ‘placement’ office has been a joke among college students for years. Few schools do a good job of helping their graduates get interviews or getting potential employers on campus to interview. Most colleges/universities are infinitely more interested in getting the student’s money than educating them or helping them find a job. That’s not what the catalog or recruitment flyers says, but it’s a sad fact.
The purpose of a college education is to empower students with life skills that enable him to contribute positively to society. Why can’t the leaders of Oklahoma’s institutions of higher learning do the same by leading the charge to move Oklahoma forward? They should be at the forefront of recruiting jobs and industry to Oklahoma. They should be pressing common education to send them students prepared for college work. They can start by being accountable to those who fund them-the taxpayer.


jbryan said...

Wow! Ggreat article. As a sigle parent of OSU student, I know the $ pain well. She has to live on campus as a freshman. The four bedroom apt she lives in costs $609 per month PER STUDENT. That's $2436 per apartment! Not to mention the $1000 meal ticket you have to have.
My home doesn't cost me near this much.
OSU says it is because freshmen get better grades, graduate earlier, etc. Cameron University presented a "retention" report to the regents several month ago that showed no evidence of this "fact".
Maybe to help out the state funding a bit we could get rid of the OHLAP program? My child gets no financial aid and I am paying taxes to fund someone else's kid to get their tuition for free?? My child will start out with a $25,000 debt. This is also the total amount that OHLAP allows for your college experience.
I hope this helps our "legislators", the ones who speak for me, understand that I will not support them or their friend next election.

jbryan said...

Sorry, I kind of got used to spell-checking automaitcally...

Steve Fair is a political activist. said...

Thanks for reading the column and for your comments- Susan Camp, the Director of Cameron University Duncan responded to my op/ed with a 1200 word 'letter to the editor' in the Sunday Duncan Banner defending higher education in Oklahoma. She maintained that state colleges are affordable, and doing a great job. Affordability is a relative term- what is affordable for me may not be for you. Oklahoma higher education is BIG BUSINESS and they are not all that concerned about education, but about getting your money and more taxpayer money. I agree the OHLAP program has its problems- not the least of which is the lack of personal responsibility it encourages. Rep. Dennis Johnson had a bill that did not make it out of committee that would have had those receiving the OHLAP money to pay it back if they left the state before ten years.

No one helped pay for my college education- I had to work full time, but back in the '70s I was able to do it without taking out student loans. Tutution and books were less then. Now students finish college with a debt that take years to pay. It's immoral! And they do it in the name of higher education.