By Joe Hadsall
MIAMI, Okla. — Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, said 2007 was a good legislative year for higher education.
On Tuesday, he visited Northeastern Oklahoma A&M; College in Miami with good news from the close of Oklahoma’s legislative session.
Johnson told about 30 members of the Rotary Club of Miami that the Legislature established a permanent funding source for the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program.
“The Legislature and the governor made a symbolic statement,” Johnson said. “They said that a college education is critically important.”
OHLAP, also known as Oklahoma’s Promise, provides free tuition to college students who have parents with less than $50,000 in combined yearly income, pass core college classes and stay out of legal trouble.
Under the arrangement, the system will identify how much money is needed to fund the program for the next fiscal year. The state’s Board of Equalization will set that amount aside before certifying available funds for that fiscal year’s budget.
“The first thing off the top will be this money for students,” Johnson said. “This removes OHLAP from all the legislative wrangling.”
Bryce Fair, director of the program, said the program’s requirements for students will increase.
Juniors taking the core classes will be required to keep a 2.5 grade-point average in those classes to remain eligible. Home-schooled students also will be allowed to apply for the program.
Johnson also said the Legislature, which ended its session Friday, approved an increase of $27 million for higher education.
NEO President Glenn Mayle said about $269,000 of that is coming to NEO. That increase will stave off cutbacks.
“We’ll be using that to cover utilities and other mandatory costs,” Mayle said. “It will also go toward salary increases.”
Mayle said the money would not be used to prevent any tuition increases. He said rates may go up within 5 percent to 8 percent by the beginning of the fall semester.
“We try to keep our tuition rates at a level that is attainable by our students,” he said. “If the extra funding didn’t come through, then we may have had to make some cutbacks.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, said each college and university in the state system will get additional money for building projects, in connection with a state bond issue passed in 2005.