A proposed, draconian 15.92 percent cut to higher education in Oklahoma over last year will lead to costly student tuition increases and severe cuts in the budgets of our colleges and universities, cuts that will impact state residents for years to come.
Apparently conservative legislative leaders and Gov. Mary Fallin have a tentative, last-minute budget plan that spares the K-12 educational system from more cuts for now, but higher education is, once again, facing reduced state appropriations in a major way. This follows a national trend among many states to cut higher education appropriations, which then leads to higher tuition and massive cuts.
The combination of recent cuts to public K-12 education and higher education, and the new proposed cuts, reveals a state government that has lost its way in a morass of conservative, anti-learning ideology. Do a majority of voting Oklahomans still have a paranoid distrust of book learning, a distrust hammered into their brains by Southern Baptist ministers and other right-wing religious folks? We’ll find out, again, in the November elections. For many years, the answer to that question has been a resounding “yes.”
I’ve grappled with this anti-education bias in Oklahoma for decades. It’s definitely not entirely a right-wing phenomenon, but conservative politicians, operatives and media outlets have polished it and perfected it into “policy” over the years. The policy perpetuates itself. The anti-education policy, pushed for years by organizations like the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and The Oklahoman newspaper, leads to our low college graduation rate, which then means less electorate support for education funding in general.
OK legislative leaders say new budget protects education, health https://t.co/iQBWw9zXkq
— NewsOK (@NewsOK) May 24, 2016
I’m convinced many Oklahoma parents DO want their children to earn a college degree, but many of them continue to vote for legislators that work against that interest. A steep rise in tuition could mean these parents will face a personal “tax increase” of their own in the hundreds of dollars each year if they are financially able and willing to help their children attend college. It will lead to even more crippling student loan debt. Many potential students might not even go to college under these circumstances. It should go without saying that it dumbs down the state.
Health programs and social services are vital to maintaining a socially just and orderly society, but higher education, in particular, is about the state’s future and potential. Statistics are clear that an educated society, which means more college graduates, is more healthy and more financially productive, which positively impacts medical outcomes, social problems and the inmate population. The nearly 16 percent proposed cut over last year for higher education doesn’t reflect this basic long-term logic.
It’s the state’s current and major Catch-22. Oklahoma needs more college graduates, but there aren’t enough educated people to vote to make that happen, and this leads to cuts in higher education, which then leads to cries that we need more college graduates. The think tanks and most of the pundits here let it happen.