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Chancellor's Column - October 2004  

What the State Questions Might Mean for Higher Education
On Nov. 2, several state questions will be voted on that may have implications for higher education in our state. I think it is important that voters be able to make an informed decision about these important issues. This column is intended to provide a description of how three of the state questions will affect higher education. Obviously, there is funding for other projects and programs in the state questions, and I hope you will do additional research before making a decision on how to vote.

State Question 705 (the lottery) has several possible implications for higher education. First, it is important to understand that the net proceeds would be transferred to the Oklahoma Education Lottery Trust Fund (SQ 706) and cannot be used to replace current funding.

K-12 public education and early childhood education would receive 45 percent of the net proceeds in the Lottery Trust Fund, and another 45 percent would be used for higher education purposes. These could include tuition grants, loans and scholarships, such as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), and construction needs on campus, among other items.

OHLAP is a highly successful scholarship program that provides free tuition for students whose family income does not exceed $50,000 per year. This program is important because it can help create more college graduates; this is essential as our state works to attract new jobs. The number of working families who are benefiting from OHLAP is increasing quickly. Since 1996, more than 22,000 eighth through 10th graders have enrolled in OHLAP. By the year 2008, OHLAP enrollment is expected to increase by another 18,000 students and cost nearly $42 million per year.

SQ 705 (lottery) also provides for the possibility of using some of the proceeds for a capital bond issue to construct new facilities on our campuses. Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities continue to experience record enrollments, serving more than 228,000 students annually. On many campuses, labs are crowded and outdated. Basic functions like heating and cooling are often antiquated and inefficient. Needed classroom space–even entire buildings–are left unused because they desperately need renovation to meet modern safety codes and access requirements.

Another state question, SQ 712 (State-Tribal Gaming Compact) could also help fund OHLAP. Twelve percent of the revenue raised from tribes and horse racing would be dedicated to college scholarships. In addition, 10 percent of revenue raised from horse racing tracks would go toward common and higher education needs.

SQ 713 (tobacco tax) could provide approximately $14 million to Oklahoma higher education. Assuming that amount, $7 million would be dedicated to help construct the Cancer Research Center at the University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center; $3.5 million would go to Oklahoma State University to help construct the new Telemedicine Building, including $500,000 for telemedicine equipment; and $3 million would be provided for indigent care in Tulsa.

Each of the state questions requires a great deal of study for you to make an informed decision. I hope this information provides you with a good overview of the implications that the state questions have on higher education in our state.

I would like to hear from you. Write to Chancellor Paul G. Risser at OSRHE, PO Box 108850, Oklahoma City, OK 73101-8850 or e-mail chancellorrisser@osrhe.edu. You can find out more about our higher education system at www.okhighered.org.