Largent, Richardson Find Some Common Ground

Article excerpt

Steve Largent and Gary Richardson don't agree on much, but they both believe that the regents of individual colleges should be able to set tuition rates for their schools.

Both gubernatorial candidates also support early childhood education programs, but on a voluntary rather than a mandatory basis.

Appearing before a forum sponsored by the Higher Education Alumni Council, Largent and Richardson answered questions from regents and other officials about their proposals to improve higher education in Oklahoma.

Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, attended the funeral of Agnes Stipe, wife of Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, and was unable to participate in the forum.

BancFirst board Chair Gene Rainbolt asked both candidates whether each college's board of regents should have tuition-setting authority.

Currently, tuition increases are under the jurisdiction of the State Regents for Higher Education. Legislative approval of tuition hikes was removed during the 2001 session. State regents may raise in-state tuition by a maximum of 7 percent a year for the next five years. The new law also authorizes raising out-of-state tuition by 9 percent yearly.

"I think I would have a tendency to be supportive of that type of arrangement," Richardson told Rainbolt.

Largent agreed.

"I'm all in favor of letting the colleges set their own tuition," he said.

Largent also pointed out that the state subsidizes about 72 percent of actual college costs in Oklahoma.

Richardson also said that he would see no reason to deny the people the opportunity to vote on an initiative, perhaps a bond issue, to match $49.2 million in private funding now awaiting matching funds for endowed higher education chairs. Rainbolt said that matching these funds would generate a total of $100 million.

Citing a 37 percent remedial rate among college freshmen, Largent said that too many Oklahoma high school students have to go to college to get a good high school education. He said that the state could save $25 million if it would do away with remedial courses.

Noting that only 22 percent of Oklahomans over 25 years of age have a college degree, Richardson said that officials must increase the number of college graduates.

Part of Richardson's platform is a state lottery, part of the proceeds of which would go toward funding college scholarships. …