As parents of college students know, the cost of sending children to school increases every year.

Now, Oklahoma legislators are conducting interim studies about college tuition and the fairness of the distribution of higher education funds, said Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid.

Jackson asked for an interim study on the fairness of fund distribution and said he also will attend a study on who should set tuition increases — the Legislature or Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Both meetings will be Sept. 26.

During the past legislative session, a bill put forth by former state Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, would have given the Legislature authority to set college tuition rates. The bill passed both houses of the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry.

“I am starting to believe there must be some sort of legislative veto, or approval, of what the regents set, because the legislators are the ones getting the telephone calls from people who can’t afford to send their children to college,” Jackson said.

He said he is concerned increasing tuition and fees are driving the cost of college out of range for some Oklahoma families. He favors some system allowing the Legislature to approve or disapprove the amount of tuition increase regents allow higher education institutions.

In-state tuition at the University of Oklahoma is $5,109.50 for 30 hours, while in-state tuition at Oklahoma State University is $4,996.80 for 30 hours. Tuition at Northwestern Oklahoma State University for 30 hours is $3,450, while tuition for 30 hours at Northern Oklahoma College is $1,992.

Jackson also is interested in the fairness of funding for colleges. He contends the regents do not always use the formula set forth for distribution of state money. Only 60 percent of funds approved by the Legislature are distributed through the formula, he said. Another 10 percent is set aside for administration, he said, and 30 percent is withheld by the regents for a grant program, which distributes more funding to the state’s comprehensive universities — OU and OSU — at the expense of regional and community colleges. Jackson wants a formula in place that will treat schools more equally.

“The formula was put in place to establish a level playing field between institutions, but by separating out 30 percent to mostly larger universities, the regents are giving an advantage to those that can afford to lobby them,” he said.

In the last two years, Jackson said OU and OSU have received double digit increases. NOC, a two-year college with branches in Tonkawa, Enid and Stillwater, has received a 4.1 percent increase.

Jackson, an OSU graduate, said he will meet with presidents of two-year colleges, but he said it will not be easy or quick to achieve a fair funding system.

“The students deserve it, and we will recommend the best possible education funding,” he said.

Janet Cunningham, president of North-western Oklahoma State University, said there is a lot of interest currently in the possible disparity of funding, and some groups also are looking at the situation.

Cunningham said some higher education institutions are funded at 90 percent of their budget needs, while others get only 60 to 70 percent.

“There is enough interest in it that it has warranted different groups looking at it now,” Cunningham said.

Because of higher college costs, Oklahoma Higher Education Learning Access Program also has grown, and Jackson fears it will become an even bigger price tag for Oklahomans.

The program helps pay for college for students who have a 3.0 high school grade average and whose family earns below $50,000 annually. On June 23, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education allocated $37.1 million for OHLAP scholarships in 2006-07, an increase of $10 million over the previous year.

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