Responding to a recent assertion by University of Oklahoma President David Boren that the legislature should not have a role in setting tuition rates, Sen. Jim Wilson on Thursday said it is still the legislature’s function to represent taxpayers on higher education issues.
Before a Tuesday meeting of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, Boren said the Oklahoma Legislature should not function like a board of regents and should let universities continue to set their own tuition rates.
Wilson called Boren’s suggestions indicative of a recent trend by universities to increase their level of autonomy.
“I’m quite sure every state agency would like to have the legislature stay out of their business,” said Wilson, D-Tahlequah. “Taxpayers look to legislators to set policy in order to achieve their goals as well as provide funding when necessary. Perhaps taxpayers would be more comfortable with tuition increases if they were derived using consideration of income and elasticity of the market, rather than merely saying it is because we don’t charge as much as other universities in the Big 12.”
Wilson added that taxpayers would be more comfortable if universities did not compete against each other for funding.
“Our universities should not be seeking additional funding to compete for student population, which increases cost and capital outlay,” Wilson said. “When we decided to help OSU with their medical school crisis this year, the OU lobbyists were in the capitol within hours to secure an equivalent amount of money – for a yet unspecified use. Rural Oklahoma is suffering from a shortage of health care delivery including family practice providers and our universities should support efforts to improve healthcare delivery, rather than bickering over funding.”
Regardless of title, Wilson added, a university President is still a state employee just like any agency director and should be held accountable to taxpayers.
This year, tuition and fees at Oklahoma universities increased by five percent, following a 9.9 percent increase in 2005, and an increase of 18.2 percent in 2004.
“The legislature needs to remain involved in the process in order to be an advocate for our taxpayers,” said Wilson. “Regardless of where our tuition rates rank among other universities, the best interests of the state and our students must be considered.”