Changes Needed to Secure Quality Higher Education / over Long Term, Says Horton

Article excerpt

Three significant changes are needed for Oklahoma to maintain quality higher education over the long term during down economi c periods, University of Oklahoma President Frank E. Horton said Tuesday.

These include providing more flexibility in the distribution of funds, limiting the access of students to certain programs and accelerating the increase of tuition.

"We have to become supply driven," said Horton in an interview following Monday's estimate of a 9 percent state budget cut for the fiscal year starting next July 1. "We have to base our funding on what it takes to supply quality education.

"Right now, our funding is based on demand - the number of students. A 9 percent budget cut would mean a cut of $10 million at the University of Oklahoma. That would be devastating to our quality of education under our current formula-based system of distributing funds."

The current system results in a "Catch 22" during a down economic period, he said.

"If we have a cutback in state funds and have more students next year," he continued, "we won't be able to absorb the students. If we have a cutback in state funds and less students, we will have even less money, because tuition will be down."

The state of Oklahoma is now 50th in the nation in private and state support per student, and that's before the cutback for next year, he said.

Horton, who became president of OU in September, went through a similar situation in the early 1980s as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. His solutions for Oklahoma are similar to the way Wisconsin met its problems.

His basic idea is to provide the flexibility for "a stabilized and systematic" approach to quality education by maintaining a "realistic but high quality" faculty, he said.

With that in mind, Horton suggested the following changes:

- Abandon formula funding, which is based on distributing funds according to the number of students.

"In its place," he said, "we should give university managers the flexibility of maintaining certain programs at a quality level and reducing others."

In this way, the university could provide needed raises to keep quality faculty members in certain programs during down economic times, he said. In good times, other programs could be increased.

- Ration the access of students to higher education. This could mean "putting a cap" on the number of students in certain programs to insure quality education in those programs, he said. …