Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Top Receivers of State Appropriations–Higher Education, By Rep. John Bennett

State Rep. John Bennett

During this legislative interim, I am spending time covering the 10 state agencies that receive the most taxpayer money. After discussing … the amount of money Common (kindergarten through 12th grade) Education receives, I thought I would spend this week focusing on Higher Education, which collects 11 percent of total agency appropriations.

For Fiscal Year 2018, higher education will see $773.6 million of taxpayer money. That actually amounts to about $31 million, or 3.8 percent, less than what the agency saw last fiscal year. The money goes to the Board of Regents, and the Board distributes the funds to state institutions. Higher education has seen cuts every year for the last four years, yet their doors stay open and the lights stay on. Beyond that, these universities have been hiring positions at extremely high salary rates. It’s pretty straightforward: these institutions continue to waste precious taxpayer money.

Earlier this summer, I touched on a few examples of blatant misuse of funds at higher education institutions. Oklahoma’s Chancellor for Higher Education makes more than $400,000 a year. The University of Oklahoma has spent thousands of dollars on concerts and conferences (including one on “how to promote reproductive justice in red states” – which is a code word for abortion rights) and recently shelled out $12,800 on a “bias hotline.” The school also brings in therapy dogs for students to de-stress during finals week. The University of Central Oklahoma charges student fees to pay for a drag show called “Glamazon.” Oklahoma State University has been on the hunt for a full-time rock climbing coordinator.

While you may question how a few thousand dollars here – and a few thousand there – make a difference, I implore you to remember how an extra lunch or dinner out once or twice a week can quickly add up. Expenses compound, and when we need to slim down our budgets, we should look to trim the fat.

Yet universities across the state have chosen to raise tuition, and they’ve blamed the Legislature because of it. Here’s the truth: the Legislature cut higher ed allocations by 3.8 percent. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University both raised tuition by 5 percent for the upcoming school year – well above the 3.8 percent needed to even out the funding drop.

Who knows what this extra 1.2 percent could be used for? But I know one thing for sure: this tuition increase unfairly places the burden on the backs of parents and students. Receiving a college degree is expensive enough already; we do not need to be compounding that cost by having students pay fees for drag shows.

I fully understand what the value a college education brings both to an individual and the state. The highly skilled workers contribute to our economy and help attract businesses that desire a workforce with bachelors’ and masters’ degrees. I am not arguing that higher education is a waste of money, but I do believe higher education institutions have a tendency to waste money. We are constitutionally mandated to fund higher education, and the Board of Regents distributes the money from there. Instead of trimming the fat, institutions have the unfortunate advantage of being able to simply raise tuition and force students and their families to bear the brunt.

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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