Oklahoma prepares for higher education cuts

Yet another American state is entering a chaotic period of higher education funding.  This time it’s Oklahoma.

The elements should be familiar if you’ve been following developments in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Alaska, Wisconsin, etc.  The state budget is facing a massive shortfall, driven in part by the continued fall in oil prices.  The estimated hole grew from $900 million to $1.3 billion recently – which is a huge chunk from a revenue stream that was $7 billion last year.  There’s a Republican governor, who recently asked for a tax cut.

Cuts to higher ed have already happened:

“To this point, this fiscal year already, the cut to our system of higher education has come to $112 million,” [Chancellor of Higher Education Glen] Johnson said after the meeting. “That represents over an 11 percent cut since the beginning of the fiscal year.”

11%!  That has already meant a wide range of pain:

Athletic programs have been slashed, including basketball at Carl Albert State College in Poteau and volleyball and equine sports at Redlands Community College in El Reno, Johnson said. The aquatic center at Oklahoma City Community College was also shut down, he said.

Some institutions have implemented early retirement offers and furlough plans, while others have eliminated programs and consolidated operations.

“others have eliminated programs”: sounds like I’ve missed some queen sacrifices there.  K-12 budgets are also shrinking.

Unless this crisis suddenly resolves itself, state politics should become fierce, as different interests compete for slices of a dwindling pie.  Education seems to be the biggest item on the state budget, including K-12 and post-secondary.  Human services are sounding the alarm to be preserved from cuts.  And, as the Tulsa World explains,

higher education officials are competing for scarce state funding at a time when devastating cuts are being considered for the state’s health care system, prisons, public schools and other popular state programs. And some Republican lawmakers are convinced that higher education, with the ability to raise tuition and seek federal or private funding, still has some room to trim its budget.

American public higher education faced a massive crisis nearly a decade ago.  A growing number of states seem to be entering crisis mode once more.


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