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January 30, 2013

Education asks for fund increase

NORMAN — State agencies and related interests are beginning to make their case before joint legislative budget committees. Higher education, health and veterans representatives had their turn Monday.

The largest of the three, higher education, is hoping to restore some of the budgets reduced over the past few years. Chancellor Glen Johnson is asking for a 10.2 percent increase in the amount appropriated to state colleges and universities.

If approved, higher ed would receive about $1.05 billion, or about $97.4 million over the current fiscal year. Last year’s funding pitch involved efficiencies of higher education. The schools identified $411 million in actual and projected cost savings between 2010 and 2014. This year’s theme seems to be funding the state’s graduation goals.

Oklahoma has joined a nationwide effort to increase the number of college graduates. State colleges and universities made great progress this past year, adding 1,941 more degrees to the number of graduates. That’s nearly double the first-year goal of 1,000 additional degrees and certificates.

The governor has challenged higher education to produce at least 50,900 degrees and certificates per year by 2023. The boost is part of a nationwide “Complete College America Initiative” and will make the state more competitive for higher-paying jobs.

Higher education will be competing for an estimated $140 million in increased state spending this year. Requests alone have topped $1 billion, and that’s before lawmakers look at rebuilding the capitol itself.

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