Now that Oklahoma lawmakers have passed a budget bill, cuts to Oklahoma City Community College’s budget are starting to become clear.
On May 31, Republican Governor Mary Fallin signed the omnibus budget bill into law. The new budget cuts funding to the state’s higher education by 4.5 percent, or almost $40 million.
“This percentage is deceiving,” said OCCC Chief Financial Officer John Boyd. “It doesn’t include the debt payment that gets paid on behalf of the college through the Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education. When you add that debt payment that we are responsible for, the real cut to Oklahoma City Community College is almost 6.1 percent.”
On top of the cuts to state spending and the debt payment, OCCC President Dr. Jerry Steward said budget cuts also reduced funding to OCCC’s concurrent enrollment program and its National Guard tuition waiver program.
Those cuts, Steward said, push OCCC’s budget reductions even higher. “When you add those two components, our real net cut was 8.55 percent,” Steward said.
Questions concerning the magnitude of the school’s budget cuts still linger.
According to court documents filed on June 7, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and the Philip Morris USA Inc.have filed a lawsuit against the state’s budget bill. Both companies argue that the $1.50 per pack cigarette fee approved by the legislature to fund the new budget, “flagrantly violates” the Oklahoma constitution.
Should the Oklahoma Supreme Court rules in favor of the tobacco companies, Steward said state lawmakers could be forced to return to the capitol for a special session to find ways to make up for that lost revenue or make additional cuts to state programs in the form of a mid-year adjustment.
This could result in even less funds for OCCC.
In May, Boyd, the chief financial officer, proposed a budget that contained a 14 percent cut to funding. Although the current cut is less than this amount, the 14 percent is still being implemented in case the tobacco companies’ litigation is successful.
“If we hadn’t done what we have done, we put ourselves at risk of some really severe mid-year adjustments if the money is not available,” Steward said.
The new budget will also affect OCCC students. Administrators expect tuition to increase.
During a June 12 OCCC Board of Regents meeting, a tuition increase was proposed. The vote for this increase will take place on Monday, June 19. After that, the increase will go to the State Regents for final approval.
Steward was cautious not to speak on behalf of the regents, but said he feels the tuition proposal will “be viewed favorably” because it is a modest increase compared to other schools in the state.
“The Leadership Council passed a resolution supporting up to a 15 percent increase in tuition,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much that impressed me, students willing to pay more. Now, I would never consider asking for an increase of that much. So we asked for a modest 4.9 percent increase in total tuition and mandatory fees.”
If this amount is approved, in-state tuition for students taking twelve credit hours will increase from $1490.40 to $1563.42. This increase is applied to both tuition and fees.
For an out-of-state student taking twelve credit hours, tuition would increase from $3,703.68 to $3,757.629. This increase is only applied for the resident tuition portion. It does not include the non-resident tuition portion or fees.
Benjamin Taylor, a public relations major, said an increase in tuition would significantly affect him. “It’s a basic principle. When tuition goes up that means there is more that I have to pay,” he said. “That means I have to work more hours. I have to bring in more income to support me coming to OCCC. It makes it more difficult for me to be a student here.”
School administrators said they also plan to eliminate two programs, the Digital Media Design-Game Option and the Biotechnology program, and several staff positions. “The numbers just couldn’t sustain the program.” Boyd, the financial officer, said. “There was such low enrollment, it was hard to justify from the college’s perspective continuing that program.”
Documents provided to the Pioneer show that OCCC has also cut thirty-five staff positions.
“Out of those thirty-five positions, only twelve positions had people in them,” Boyd said. “Out of those twelve, only eight people lost their jobs. We offered four of those people other positions in the college. Three accepted, one did not. The remaining five, we simply did not have a position to offer them.”
Steward said the official announcement about the changes will come after the June 19 board meeting.
“It’s the most challenging time in my life. I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.“ If you are concerned about your education, make your voice heard to your senator and representative. Tell them to stop hurting your future and your classmates.”