University of Oklahoma President David Boren says “if the people of Oklahoma knew, they’d care” about what he calls a crisis in education. Boren made his comments Wednesday during his presentation to the Regents for Higher Education on a proposed tuition increase for OU. Boren says he’s not against cutting taxes, but education has to be funded properly. And while he calls on increasing funding for Common Education and Higher Education, he also said reforms are needed, including potentially reducing the number of school districts and state-run colleges and universities.
“How many school districts do we need? What’s the overhead cost of each district?” Boren asked in an interview with Oklahoma Watchdog (see video below). When asked if he thinks Oklahoma has too many college campuses as well as too many school districts, Boren said, “potentially, yes to both.” Boren says while you may keep the same delivery points – meaning campus locations – you could do away with administrative overhead by “bringing them together in some sort of partnerships.”
Boren believes that the people aren’t aware that Oklahoma ranks 49th in education funding per student despite the attention of State Question 744 on the ballot in November, 2010, which would have tied education spending to the regional average. Election results show more than a million people voted on SQ744 which garnered more “No” votes than anything else on the ballot. Boren says he’d like to see Governor Fallin set up a blue ribbon panel to look at increasing support for common education and also making it more cost-effective.
As for Higher Education, Boren says he is focusing on ways to get more bang for the buck at OU, looking at the curriculum and whether there should be so many course offerings and trying to increase the teaching loads for professors. Boren, who told Regents that he wants government to be as small as possible and that he considers himself a conservative, says that if the state continues down the path to where colleges and universities are getting a smaller and smaller percentage of their funding from state appropriations, it is “closing the door of opportunity.” The state budget included $955-million for Higher Education – about 14% of total appropriations – and also took the estimated $140-million out of the EDGE Fund to help fund the backlog of endowed chairs at state colleges and universities. OU only gets 17% of its funding from the state now, according to Boren. The rest comes from tuition, private donations and other sources.
According to Boren, because the legislature didn’t appropriate enough state tax dollars, the cost of higher education is being shifted to families in the form of tuition increases. Requests for increases averaging 5.3% were presented to Regents Wednesday. OU’s proposed increase is one of the smallest at 3% for Oklahoma residents.