Oklahoma’s financial aid grows while higher ed funding slows

Oklahoma State financial aid is growing despite higher education budget woes. Online photo.

Oklahoma State financial aid is growing despite higher education budget woes. Online photo.

The amount of financial aid given to college students is at a record high, but the state funding for higher education is the same as it was 16 years ago, causing Oklahoma universities to reevaluate their budget.

According to NewsOK, the funding to Oklahoma’s higher education system has dropped from over one billion dollars in Fiscal Year 2008 to $810 million in FY17. However, the percentage of funds reserved for student aid has almost quadrupled from 3.4 percent to 11.3 percent.

Judy Cuellar, Oklahoma Christian University’s director of student financial services, said the state also cut the amount of money going to private universities.

“They cut the amount of money going to private schools in order to continue to fund their public schools,” Cuellar said. “We saw a loss in the number of students actually getting state aid because it’s a first-come, first-serve basis. The university opted to offset anyone we promised the money to, with institutional aid, but we’re trying not to award in the future years above what we’ve been allowed.”

Cuellar said the lower state funding will not influence a prospective student’s choice to attend Oklahoma Christian in the near future.

“In the distant future, this could have an impact on someone’s decision to come to school here, just not now,” said Cuellar. “It depends on if the state sees some recovery from all the difficulties they’ve been having. They cut the grants that were for lower-income families and decreased the number that we could give. They made the cuts, but they didn’t cut the Oklahoma Promise, which is available for private universities. What it does for an Oklahoma Christian student is reduce the per-credit-hour cost by the same amount the student would get if they were going to a state school.”

According to NewsOK, the budget request for higher education for Fiscal Year 2018 includes $6.3 million to restore the scholarship cuts. Cuellar said this would create positive change, but will not be too influential.

“I hope they are able to get the requested budget, but it’s all just beginning on the negotiations,” Cuellar said. “I’d really like to see the $6.3 million increase, but they cut $200 million over the last eight years. It’s not a really big impact, bringing it back up by $6.3 million.”

According to NewsOK, half of Oklahoma students in public universities graduate without student debt.

“We can say that 42 percent of Oklahoma Christian students graduate without any student loan debt,” Cuellar said. “I am watching this percent decrease. We are still under the national average for student loan debt because we offer a good amount of institutional aid. A lot of students qualify for state aid, and our students look for outside scholarships.”

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