Q&A - December 6, 2015

Families are becoming ever more concerned about the rapidly rising cost of a college education. Many find it difficult or impossible to pay the full price for a child to attend college today, so an increasing number of students pursue some sort of financial assistance.

While many students receive grants or scholarships, which do not have to be paid back, many other resort to taking out school loans, resulting in student debt after graduation. Astonishingly, last year, the national student loan debt actually surpassed the national credit card debt in the United States.

So, affordability of higher education is a legitimate concern and one that I would like to address in my response to the following question:

Q: How affordable is it to attend college in Oklahoma, and how does OSUIT compare?

Higher education in Oklahoma continues to be one of the country’s best bargains. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma higher education is the fifth most affordable in the nation. While other states have had double-digit tuition increases, public colleges and universities in Oklahoma have averaged only a 4.5 percent increase since 2009. At OSUIT, the increase was even less acute. The average tuition increase at OSUIT was $127.50, or 3.5 percent, for the 2015-16 fiscal year. The increase is used to cover mandatory costs such as increased employee health insurance premiums, increased utility costs, upgrades to information technology infrastructure and additional library materials.

Oklahoma has been able to curb large tuition increases even though annual funding from the state legislature for higher education has steadily decreased. In the last 35 years, higher education’s share of state appropriations has declined from 18.6 percent to 14.4 percent, and state funding has gone from making up 74.2 percent of college and university’s total budgets to just over 35 percent. This funding reduction is often passed on to students who take on student loans to cover the rising cost of their education.

Fortunately, student debt at Oklahoma’s public institutions is 33 percent below the national average, and nearly 50 percent of students in Oklahoma graduate with no debt. In fact, Oklahoma has the fifth lowest student debt level in the country according to the Institute for College Access and Success’ report “Project on Student Debt.” The average student debt at OSUIT is $8,700, and the university was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the top West regional school with the least amount of student debt.

Each student’s situation at OSUIT is different. Some don’t borrow at all, relying on family support, grants, scholarships, or industry sponsorships, while others rely on borrowed funds to live on while pursuing their education. OSUIT’s unique trimester format that requires the majority of students to attend during summer months may initially increase borrowing levels, but it ultimately reduces the total amount of time spent enrolled at the university. This means students enter the workforce earlier since they complete their degree in less time.

At OSUIT, we try very hard to keep education affordable and to get our graduates into the paid workforce as quickly as possible. Please send additional questions or comments to osuit-president@okstate.edu.