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Okla. college officials say they're more efficient

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's higher education chancellor told a legislative panel Tuesday that the state's 25 colleges and universities are on track to save $451.7 million in five years.

Chancellor Glen Johnson said the state's higher education institutions have made it a priority to reduce their operating costs through 2015 to meet legislative directives. He said the cost savings is the result of energy conservation, information technology, changes in salaries, benefits and some university positions, and a reduction in supplies.

"We've taken your directives very seriously," Johnson told members of the House Higher Education and Career Tech Committee. "There's more work to do."

Johnson made the comments during a legislative study into the administrative costs of the state's colleges and universities and its impact on students.

The state's higher education system is coordinated by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, and each college and university is governed by a separate board of regents. The local governing boards are responsible for the operation and management of each of the state's colleges and universities.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who requested the study, said he wanted to explore whether the number of higher education administrative boards hampers student performance and success. Shannon, R-Lawton, said other states have reduced the number of higher education governing boards.

Higher education officials said local boards are made up of unpaid volunteers who devote their time and energy to schools' needs.

"The way they're structured certainly meets their needs," Johnson said.

Burns Hargis, president of Oklahoma State University, said it would be difficult for a single higher education governing board to devote the amount of attention needed by each of the state's schools.

"You still benefit from the local boards," Hargis said.

Johnson told lawmakers that cutting operating costs has helped the state's colleges avoid large tuition increases in recent years. Johnson said tuition at Oklahoma colleges and universities has risen an average of 4.2 percent when other states have seen double-digit tuition increases.

Johnson also said Oklahoma's higher education institutions are working to increase the number of graduates by 67 percent by 2023. About 30,500 students were graduated from a state college or university in 2011, and the number of graduates will have to increase to 50,900 — an increase of 20,400 students — in order to meet the goal, Johnson said.

Johnson said the state's regents plan to release their budget request for the upcoming year on Thursday. The higher education budget for fiscal year that ends June 30 is more than $988 million, $33 million more than the previous year.

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