As universities across Oklahoma have raised tuition in response to the ongoing decrease in state funding to higher education, student fees at major state universities have also seen a steady increase to compensate for budgetary cuts.
While fees have increased disproportionately across all of Oklahoma’s 25 public institutions for higher education, the brunt of these increases have been most apparent at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, according to Nicholas Glasgow, a student advisory board member with the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
“Colleges have been raising fees to cover their losses,” Glasgow said. “Today at our two major research institutions, OU and OSU, the cost of student fees are getting closer to the cost of tuition per hour.”
Charging $159.60 per credit hour in tuition, OU’s student fees follow closely at $134.03 per credit hour and at OSU students pay $178.55 per credit hour in tuition and $122.05. A base number, that amount can increase based upon which college students are enrolled in, whether or not students enroll in online courses or there status an out-of-state or international student.
“Student fees for both in-state and out-of-state are getting more and more expensive every year,” said OSU senior Cheng Hao Tan. “I think this year is just way overpriced, especially for engineering.”
While many fees are universal, such as athletic fees, student activity fees and facility fees, others are more specialized for each institution. OU and OSU both charge students an academic excellence fee, which the institutions describe as providing for new faculty positions or increasing faculty salaries.
Other fees can vary drastically in their costs across institutions as well. At OSU, an undergraduate student pays $510 each year for the library automation and materials fee when enrolling in the recommended 15 credit hours a semester. This is 147 percent higher than second place Rogers State University, which charges students $270 a year.
Like other universities that charge such a fee, OSU’s library automation and materials fee covers equipment such as printers and scanners, as well as services such as online databases or the university’s Document Delivery program that allows students to scan up to two pages of a copyrighted textbook for free.
When asked specifically what made OSU’s library more expensive than other institutions, OSU Head of Communications Bonnie Cain-Wood explained that “it costs a lot run a library.”
With services and equipment not dissimilar from other universities, some students at OSU have expressed surprise that the university charges that much for a library fee when the facilities are comparable to other libraries.
“I don’t think it’s worth $510. I don’t use it near as much as I should,” said OSU student Trey Robinson. “But I can understand why they charge $510, because they’re open 24/7 through the weekdays and they offer a ton of resources for anything you could possibly need.”
While universities are required to submit a description of what a fee will provide for when receiving approval from the State Regents for a new fee or a specific increase, descriptions often do not touch on what specifically a fee like library automation and materials would cover.
Cain-Wood said that a possible reason for the lack of transparency in reports to the Regents could stem from the fact that different colleges charge different fees and the delineation between colleges makes it difficult to track fees.
As a student advisory board member, Glasgow said that increase in fees were the greatest concern he had heard from students across the state, especially in relation to student debt.
“A kid should not have to go to college to get an education and be saddled with an, on average, $20,000 debt,” Glasgow said.
In 2018, student debt reached a staggering $1.5 trillion according to the Federal Reserve. While the national average for student debt hovers around $30,000, Oklahomans face a lower at around $25,000 overall and around $23,000 for students who graduate from public institutions.
Overall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has ranked state’s higher education system as the fifth in the nation for affordability and the National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average student cost at a four-year public university in Oklahoma is fifth-lowest in the nation.
When it comes to tuition and fees, U.S. News and World Report ranks Oklahoma tuition as the seventh-lowest in the nation and ranks student debt at graduation as 10th-lowest in the nation.
“The State Regents and our colleges and universities remain committed to keeping higher education affordable for all Oklahomans,” said OSRHE Chancellor Glen D. Johnson.
While Oklahoma may rank higher in affordability, a 2017 study by the University of Illinois revealed that the state ranked 50th in the nation for funding in higher education.
Since 2012, state appropriations for higher education have been reduced from over $1.4 billion down to $776 million, representing a decrease by more than 30 percent of state-funded revenue for universities across Oklahoma.
The significant decrease in funding has meant that many universities have been forced to implement stringent cost cutting measures according to Angela Cadell, associate vice chancellor for Communications with OSRHE.
For the 2020 fiscal year that will begin on July 1, nearly all of Oklahoma’s public institutions have submitted for fee increases or new fees. Additionally, the OSRHE have requested a 13.1 percent increase for their 2020 budget that would go towards restoring base operational funding at universities, increasing faculty salaries and increasing student financial aid.
“Given Oklahoma higher education’s unique role in advancing our state’s degree completion agenda and meeting the state’s workforce development needs, we will continue to make the case throughout the current legislative session that higher education must be a top funding priority,” Caddell said.