College students are making their way back to school. What makes the difference between this year and the last is the challenges that they face.
On May 26, the legislators at the Oklahoma Capitol made a choice.
A $1 billion budget shortfall had to be made up for. With a 4 percent budget cut across the board, education felt the brunt of the hit.
“We took a $1 billion budget hole and somehow came up with a balanced budget you can vote on today,” said House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn said. “Is it perfect? Guess what — there’s no perfect.”
Because of the budget cuts, colleges across the state were tasked with making a proposal for tuition increases. Colleges like OU and OSU raised their tuition by a 5 percent margin.
OCCC was able to get away with raising the tuition only by 4.4 percent.
“When we allowed for our student board to make the call, we were so impressed and touched by the amount our students suggested,” OCCC President Jerry Steward said. “The amount that we have to raise our tuition is still the most affordable in the state. We want to make sure our students succeed in any way that they can.”
The raise in tuition has affected the students enrolled at OCCC. Financial aid and Pell grants are extending themselves in order to help students go through college.
Incoming Freshman Katy Malinowski has been out of school for over five years. Malinowski has been out of formal education since her high school graduation in 2012. After consideration, she decided to take the leap and go for college.
“It’s an opportunity that I couldn’t deny,” Malinowski said. “It’s something that I wanted to pursue for a while. I feel overwhelmed; there’s a lot going on but I’m proud that I’m taking this step.”
Students like Katy continue to pour into universities and community colleges despite the financial setbacks from the Oklahoma government.
Since the legislature adjourned in late May, they have been met with criticism on many sides. The state continues to fund projects like the Oklahoma Skybridge over I40 and the endless construction sites that never go away.
It’s hard for people to believe that Oklahoma is dealing with their tax dollars wisely nowadays. When you build a 380 feet long, 20 feet wide and 192 feet tall structure for no other reason other state pride; it’s challenging not to be curious as to where all the money goes.
Funding is not the only issue that colleges have to face.
Focus on education from our government has taken a back seat. While the government continues to value the oil and natural gas companies, their value on education plummets.
People like Republican oilman and former Tulsa mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. have been reported to ask regularly to raise taxes.
According to KFOR, this raise in taxes back in April would generate revenue for the gas companies by 200-250 million.
In a quote from Bartlett Jr., he was asked if the money could be used for better means in the state. He responded, “Perhaps it’s ironic that this proposed tax restoration could cover the cost of the teacher pay raise. Or perhaps not.”
A report from the Tulsa World in January reported that Oklahoma is ranked 48 in the nation for education. The only two states below us are Mississippi and West Virginia.
23 year old Alexis Stowe is a student at OCCC working on her nursing degree. Throughout her education, Arnold has had a problem with the way that the Oklahoma legislature values education.
“Honestly, I’m not surprised,” she said. “Everyone is so worried about sports that everything takes a backseat. I wasn’t taught half of the stuff I should have been in high school. It’s sad but not surprising.”
Beside the challenges college students face, they continue to enroll by the thousands.
Oklahomans want a higher education and are resilient enough to face any obstacle.
The only hope that we have is that the government can see the importance in the state’s education.