Redlands Community College has until June to announce plans to merge with a state university or one will be assigned to it. That was the message presented last week when the RCC Board of Regents hosted a meeting that included Glen Johnson, the Chancellor for Oklahoma’s State Regents of Higher Education.
A task force created by the state recommended independent community colleges such as Redlands merge with one of three governing boards: OSU A&M, the University of Oklahoma or the Regional University System of Oklahoma which includes schools like Southwestern Oklahoma State University and the University of Central Oklahoma.
“The purpose of this special meeting is to have an open, transparent dialogue on the future not only of Redlands but also of higher education in general,” said RCC board chairman Richard Ruhl.
Johnson, former Speaker of the House, said the push to merge schools is rooted in cost savings and efficiency.
“We felt it would be important to take a look at higher education, the academic community and workforce and degree completion,” said Johnson.
“We’re also taking a look at ways to be more cost effective.”
Johnson showed multiple pages of data on fiscal support for American colleges.
“We've seen a decline in fiscal support, so there’s more reliance on tuition and fees,” said Johnson.
“As other areas receive more appropriations, higher education receives less.”
Some of those other areas include state health care, corrections and transportation, Johnson said.
Since 2008, Johnson said funding for higher education has dropped by 26 percent, or $274 million. The task force, along with others, believe that mergers are a good option for each school to save money.
Mergers are also an opportunity to look at ways to increase annual enrollment and degree completion, which has also been in decline over the years in Oklahoma, Johnson said.
Johnson said a merger would not mean the closing of Redlands or the other two-year schools. He said Redlands would be able to retain its name, its fee system and its “values.”
El Reno Mayor Matt White said the name of the school is not the most important matter, although, in his opinion, it should include “El Reno” in it so the public will know where it is located.
White said the decision will impact the entire community and area and not only the school.
Other states have consolidated higher education, Johnson said.
Connecticut’s 12 community colleges were merged into a single system. The merger is expected to be completed in 2023, and will save approximately $17 million.
Redlands leaders said the school is in good financial shape.
“The State Regents support this option that will provide opportunities for every college and university in our system to remain viable going forward,” said Johnson.
“The cuts have been significant, and these mergers are a way to leverage assets for our three constitutional governing boards.”
Johnson said Redlands’ two-year tuition structure and fees could be maintained with the merger.
“Merging will not at all restrict an institution from maintaining their identity, their mission, and very specifically, their tuition and fees structure.”
The task force issued a deadline of June 30, 2019, for the consolidation to take place. If a school does not meet that deadline, the Higher Regents have indicated they would decide the matter.