Public education dominated much of the discussion inside the Oklahoma Capitol since teachers packed the halls during a statewide walkout during the legislative session in 2018.
Additional funding for Oklahoma's public schools was long overdue — it was definitely needed — and a little more targeted funding probably wouldn't hurt. But while lawmakers were playing catch-up on that front, it seems the state's institutions of higher learning have been left by the wayside.
A report this week by State Impact Oklahoma shows state funding for higher education has risen for all but five states in the nation. Oklahoma not only is among those where funding has declined, taxpayer support for higher education dropped more here than anywhere else except Alaska.
According to a Grapevine Survey conducted by Illinois State University, funding for Oklahoma colleges and universities fell $195 million, or 18.6%, between 2015 and 2020. On average, higher education funding overall during that same period rose 18.8%, which represents a $15.3 billion increase in spending.
A report released last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found cuts to Oklahoma higher education during the past decade has resulted with higher tuitions. The increased burden on students, according to the report, has exacerbated racial and class inequalities on college campuses and deters low-income and minority students from enrolling altogether.
Investing in higher education would benefit not only present and future students, it would benefit all Oklahomans by boosting the economic prospects of our state. Studies consistently show states that have populations with a larger pool of workers with college degrees tend to be more productive and have higher median wages.
Investing in education is a good bet anytime you're shooting for the spot in the Top 10. And higher education has to be included in the mix if you're going to make it to the top.
Oklahoma's colleges and universities have been neglected too long, and students have been asked to bear too much of the financial load. Investing in our institutions of higher learning has value, and lawmakers need to pony up.