- Associated Press - Sunday, November 22, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Higher education officials across Oklahoma are reducing costs as they anticipate a massive budget deficit next year, including by cutting down on travel, partnering with other schools to offer joint-degree programs and making purchases off the same contract.

Early projections have put the state’s 2016-2017 shortfall between $800 million and $1 billion. Education officials have been preparing for the deficit since September, and some of the state’s 25 public colleges and universities are developing ways they can trim costs, said Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.

“We are making plans today - and we have the past two months - to be prepared to deal with what will be a very significant budget deficit,” Johnson said Wednesday, during the first of a series of meetings at campuses across the state. “Our goal is to do everything we can to ensure that the cut to higher education is minimized or that higher education is protected, but we understand what the numbers are.”

Johnson said plans to save on information technology, energy and travel costs are already in place, The Oklahoman newspaper reported (https://bit.ly/1Hgb6K8 ). Some schools are also sharing faculty and considering offering joint-degree programs, where one school provides the general education and the other the technical courses. Other schools are making purchases off the same contract to save money.

Higher education received 14.4 percent of state appropriations this fiscal year, according to higher education officials. That money accounts for 35 percent of the higher education budget - compared with 50 percent less than 10 years ago.

The biggest factors have been increases in funding for health care and the departments of human services, corrections and transportation, Johnson said. But as those agencies have received a larger percentage of the budget, areas like higher education have received less, according to state education officials.

At Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, the cost-cutting includes consolidating or eliminating offices and programs and leaving 10 vacant positions unfilled.

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Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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