The State Regents for Higher Education will ask lawmakers for more than $859 million next year, an $88.8 million increase over the current fiscal year budget.
Regents approved their fiscal year 2022 budget request in a meeting on Thursday.
The largest portion of the requested increase, $33.8 million, would fund workforce development initiatives, with $10.5 million going toward improving engineering programs at OU, OSU and the University of Central Oklahoma.
Chancellor Glen Johnson said the goal is getting Oklahoma out of the bottom 20 states for number of engineers per capita.
"We’ve been told time and time again — Tinker, Boeing tells us they can hire every engineer that we produce. ... When we fell slightly short on the Tesla issue, engineers was one of the issues there," Johnson said.
Another $7 million would go toward doubling the number of physician residency slots from 820 to 1,640 over 10 years. OSU President Burns Hargis said doctors tend to stay where they do their residencies.
"Doctors tend to practice where they do their residencies, and there’s just not a lot of residencies in the state of Oklahoma. So, if we can increase them, we’re going to be able to increase the number of doctors that we retain here and practice," Hargis said.
Other workforce initiative funds would go toward nursing and teaching programs.
The rest of the increase regents will request would go toward paying for rising operational costs and deferred maintenance, supplementing financial aid and scholarship programs, and paying debt service on an endowed chairs program so far financed with bonds rather than state appropriations.
Oklahoma State Regent Jay Helm said while $88.2 million sounds like a big increase, it won’t catch Oklahoma up with neighboring states’ spending on higher education.
"Let’s realize that just to match the lowest state, which would be Arkansas, on what they spend per student, we would need a $350 million increase. That’s the lowest of the surrounding states," Helm said.
State appropriations for Oklahoma higher education are lower than they were 20 years ago, and colleges and universities have generally received a dwindling share of the state’s budget since 1980.