In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley speak with the head of Oklahoma's higher education system, Glen Johnson. Johnson discusses budget cuts to higher education, as well as free speech policies, virtual education and more.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Our guest is Chancellor Glen Johnson, the CEO of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. Chancellor Johnson, always a pleasure to be with you.
Chancellor Glen Johnson: Great to be here today, Dick and Shawn.
Pryor: Thanks for joining us.
Shawn Ashley: Chancellor, the fall semester at Oklahoma colleges and universities as almost to the halfway point, which makes this a really good time to talk about the state of higher ed in Oklahoma. Higher ed received a bump in legislative appropriations this year after several years of cuts, an increase of about 7.5 million dollars for concurrent enrollment. How does concurrent enrollment work for Oklahoma students?
Johnson: Well, Shawn it's really, I think it's probably one of our great success stories. It provides an opportunity for high school seniors (and juniors in some instances) to take college level credit. This is important for several reasons. First of all, it saves students and parents money. The second really important thing about concurrent enrollment is it shortens the time to degree. Two years ago, as a function of the budget cuts, concurrent enrollment was being reimbursed to our college universities at 27 cents on the dollar, or 27 percent. We had a good bump in 2018. This year, again, our goal was to fully fund it, and the legislature provided the funding to do that this year. So in a space of two years we've gone from 27 percent reimbursement all the way to 100 percent.
Pryor: What worked best for higher education to get through that period of time when the cuts were the greatest?
Johnson: Well, I think probably we had several objectives. One was to go as far as we could go and not impact students in the classroom. Now, candidly, I mean you all know the numbers...Over a seven year period we experienced a budget cut of about 274 million, right at 26 percent, so we did not get all the way to the end without dramatically impacting students. There were some instances where we had to have reductions in force for both faculty and staff, but that was held to a minimum. You know some of the areas where reductions occurred were like in the college counselors, the advisers. But, overall I give our colleges and universities good marks. I give the State Regents good marks in terms of trying to get through that, to navigate the tough waters, not to raise tuition to the to the hilt at a time when a lot of states when the downturn started in 2007-2008 their default was to raise tuition to plug the gap.
Pryor: How is the increase in online coursework affecting colleges and universities, especially those that have a heavy investment in brick and mortar?
Johnson: Well, it certainly has been a change, and I think it's interesting, Dick, to look at that change over the last decade. Yeah, this is a new delivery method, but whether it's online or whether it's traditional face-to-face instruction, the professor there in the classroom is still the key to the learning opportunity for the student. More and more students in Oklahoma higher education are going to take some are part of their college experience online. They're going to do that. To that end, our Regents five years ago decided as a system we need to be looking at online more as a system and not just from an individual campus basis.
Ashley: Chancellor Johnson, one of the significant issues colleges and universities across the country are facing is one of free speech on campus. How do you think higher education institutions, particularly those in Oklahoma, can best address the conflict?
Johnson: Well, I think it's a very pertinent topic. You know, if there's any place where we need to be sensitive to free speech it should be a college or university campus. Certainly, there needs to be guidelines, and we asked all 25 colleges and universities under our public system to take another look a fresh look at their free speech policies and to make sure with their attorneys with their general counsels that they updated those. And so a year ago every campus in the system did that. And frankly some of them made some modifications that I think they would say are helpful. It's a frequent topic during our meetings with our council presidents.
Pryor: Chancellor Glen Johnson, thanks for joining us.
Johnson: Pleasure to be here. I hope we can do it again.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at KGOU.org and eCapitol.net, Apple podcasts and Spotify. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.