NewsOK: U.S. Rep. Cole predicts increased funding for federal higher education programs
NewsOK - Kathryn McNutt
While state funding for colleges remains up in the air as budget negotiations continue, federal dollars likely will increase, Congressman Tom Cole said Wednesday during a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.
Education bills in the U.S. House include big increases for TRIO and GEAR UP, "areas that are pretty important, particularly to Oklahoma higher education," said Cole, R-Moore.
Federal TRIO programs are designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. GEAR UP helps students and their families better prepare for college. Oklahoma GEAR UP partners with 24 school districts across the state, serving more than 21,000 students each year.
"At the federal level ... those things will all fare very, very well," Cole said.
When it comes to federal funding, Republicans and Democrats come together on three areas — the National Institutes of Health, early childhood program and programs that support first-generation college students, "the kinds of programs where a lot of our students fall into," he said.
"There's nothing more important than giving kids an opportunity to succeed," said Cole, a former college professor.
It's something state lawmakers also should be able to get behind on a bipartisan basis to benefit the state, he said.
"Almost every family wants their kid to go to college," Cole said. "Politically — long term — being against higher education is a loser."
Putting a disproportionate share of the cost on families by increasing tuition prevents some students from attending college and keeps others from attending the college of their choice, he said.
Public funds for higher education should ensure students can go to the institution that suits them the best, takes them the furthest and gives them the best chance to succeed, he said.
It's an investment that pays off, Cole said.
He noted Boeing employs 2,700 people in Oklahoma — 1,700 of them engineers — with an average salary of $91,000.
"If your not in the position to produce the engineers they need, they'll get them sooner or later, but they'll get them from somewhere else. Those ought to be jobs that we can and should compete for," he said. "The investment has to be preserved and maximized."
Meanwhile, state agencies remain unsure if they will sustain additional cuts as they wait for a budget agreement, said Todd Pauley, legislative liaison for the regents.
"I felt like last week they really were on to something and had something in their grasp, a deal that could be worked out, and that fizzled quickly," Pauley said.
"Politics is a math problem and the math just doesn't add up currently," he said. "People are anxious for a solution and want to see something get done, but what that something is, it seems like folks are all over the board on."
Chancellor Glen Johnson said he and Pauley are meeting with House and Senate members and leaders one-on-one, and have encouraged college presidents to talk with their area lawmakers and business leaders. Johnson said they have been asked to make the point that funding for higher education has been cut 25 percent over the past three years, the most of any state entity, and "additional cuts would be very difficult."
Regent Mike Turpen, of Oklahoma City, asked the congressman if it was true he was recruited to serve on the search committee for the next president of the University of Oklahoma.
"I was approached, but that's not something I'm going to be involved in," Cole said.
Regent Jeff Hickman, of Fairview, replied, "You can't be a candidate and on the committee at the same time, so I'm excited to hear that."
"You guys are fishing, but I'm not biting," Cole said.