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College Regent: Affordable, quality education available in Oklahoma

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced results of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which showed the average price of attending a four-year public college or university has jumped by $1,700 in the past four years. The results highlight the financial challenges of higher education. But as the concern continues for increasing college costs and subsequent student debt, Oklahomans can be reassured that they can still get an affordable, quality education in this state. As the largest four-year university system in the state, the Regional University System of Oklahoma governs six of the state's universities: East Central, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southeastern, Southwestern and the University of Central Oklahoma. Together these institutions enrolled more than 50,000 students this year. In 2013, the average cost (tuition, fees, room and board, books) to attend a regional system university was $11,637, compared with $23,200 nationally. This means that 38 percent of Oklahoma graduates paid nearly half the national average for their education. Part of how we help keep costs affordable is our continual evaluation of cost savings and efficiencies. The six regional universities are saving more than $47 million through energy initiatives, reduced administrative expenses and information technology savings. Costs also are offset by seeking research funding to supplement state appropriations. Last year, regional university institutions got more than $33 million in grants. The system's network of universities and satellite locations also helps college accessibility. Students who can't attend college farther away due to job, family or financial circumstances still have the opportunity to earn an accredited four-year degree through classroom and online instruction. Together these positively impact the affordability of a college degree, as evident in our low student-college debt ratio. While students in the Regional University System of Oklahoma pay half of the cost of their education compared with the national average, 43 percent graduate without any college debt. That's the eighth-lowest debt average in the nation! There is no doubt that getting a college degree increases earning potential. Studies show that on average a person with a bachelor's degree earns $1.1 million more in a lifetime than a high school graduate. But as college tuition continues to rise, more students are forced to make hard decisions about whether they can afford to invest in a college degree. We're also concerned about the effects of the nation's rising cost of college tuition, which is why we are below the national average. I believe all Oklahomans deserve the opportunity to increase their knowledge and earning potential. Ogden is chairman of the board of regents for the Regional University System of Oklahoma.

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