- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Public funding for higher education in Oklahoma has dropped 11 percent this year, state regents reported Thursday at a meeting in which college and university presidents asked the Legislature to forego more steep cuts in next year’s budget.

The state’s higher education system spending is down $112 million from last fiscal year after a series of statewide general revenue failures and declines in oil-and-gas production taxes slashed funds that benefit public education, according to a financial report the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved Thursday.

Colleges and universities have cut staff, services and academic programs to account for the revenue losses, system Chancellor Glen Johnson said at the meeting.

“We hope and believe that it’s evident that the regents, our presidents and our institutions are taking measures, all the measures that we can, to deal with these cuts,” Johnson said. “But I think we also need to state very clearly: We’re not doing that without a very negative impact on our colleges and universities, and quite frankly on our academic programs and our students.”

The Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin took money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund in March for prisons and K-12 schools, but not higher education. Leaders in the Legislature, including Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, have said the burden of cuts should be spread equally among the other agencies to prevent more damaging cuts to core programs.

At Connors State College in Warner, a faculty group voted unanimously to teach extra classes for no extra pay, library hours have been reduced to 25 hours a week and administrators have taken 5 to 10 percent pay cuts, President Tim Faltyn said. The college, founded as an agricultural school in the early 20th century, cut some academic programs altogether, including agriculture, Faltyn said.

Now that institutions have adjusted their budgets to account for this year’s revenue failures, administrators are bracing for cuts expected in fiscal year 2017, during which state officials anticipate having to close a $1.3 billion shortfall.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren, who is supporting an initiative for a ballot measure that would raise new taxes for public education, told state regents on Thursday that the Legislature would need to spare higher education substantial cuts in next year’s budget or risk recent gains in retention rates and degree offerings.

“We can’t pretend that we can get through this with simply greater efficiencies that are not going to cut into the excellence that we’re now committed to,” Boren said.

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