Boost in funding could be coming for Higher Education
After a decade of cuts to higher education funding, all signs from the state Capitol appear that an increase in funding could be on the way, though not as much as state regents had hoped for.
Speaking this week at a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, Rep. Kevin Wallace, who is chairman of the Appropriations and Budgets Committee, said he expected a $28 million increase in funding for higher education next fiscal year.
“It’s still very fluid,” Wallace told the board. “I was always told it’s tougher when you have money than when you do not. But I can tell you what we’ve lived through the past couple years, this session has been much easier on everyone.”
The Oklahoma State Regents had requested an increase of more than $105 million from last year’s budget, which totaled $773.5 million.
But at the announcement of a potential $28 million increase, the board broke out into applause.
“We have increased the number of college degree holders and the stem graduates by 47%,” Regent Glen Johnson said. “We are on a mission that coincides with your agenda and we are ready to get to work on it.”
The funding for higher education has taken a 25% cut in the past 10 years and is $41.2 million less than the amount appropriated in 2001.
Gov. Kevin Stitt also attended Thursday's meeting and expressed his support to regents.
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“I just want you to know that you have my support,” he said. “I’m certainly no expert at the higher ed thing so I’ll lean on the folks on the board to help me.
“You tell me what you need, and it’s my job to make that happen for higher ed and get us all working together.”
Stitt's administration has said investing in higher education is a way to improve business growth in the state, which is a goal for Stitt.
Sean Copeland, who works as the governor’s secretary of commerce and workforce, told the board low national rankings in workforce-ready graduates has made it difficult to attract new businesses.
“We need more graduates coming through these institutions listed here,” Copeland said. “It was a very sobering look and a sign to me and the governor that we really need to increase our support of higher ed and re-imagine how we are doing things.”
Stitt echoed Copeland's thoughts.
“I try to think about the jobs in 20 years,” he said. “Think about technology and make sure we are not left behind as we are organizing for the future.
“We need more kids going to college and more kids getting higher education degrees and we need them working with industry.”