OCPA scholars respond to Fallin appointee’s attack on higher education study

Stephen McKeever, Gov. Mary Fallin’s Cabinet Secretary of Science and Technology, yesterday blasted a study of higher education costs sponsored by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). Today (Thursday, October 6), in response, authors of the analysis and a vice president for the public policy think tank have responded with passionate defenses of their work. 

In a commentary for The Tulsa World, McKeever, vice president for research and technology transfer at Oklahoma State University said writers of the report had used “flawed ‘analysis’ to solidify their argument.”  

In rebuttal, Matthew Denhart of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, told CapitolBeatOK today “Our report does not mislead in the slightest. The conclusion is very clear, Oklahomans are not getting the bang for their higher education buck that they deserve.”

Denhart and Christopher Matgouranis wrote “Oklahoma Higher Education: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom,” a study released in late May.  


McKeever, tapped by the chief executive to be chairman of the Unmanned Aerial Systems Council (UASC) reflected, “One thing on which generals, politicians and industry leaders agree is that no good decisions are ever made based on bad information.” He then contended, “That thought should be at the forefront of the mind of anyone who reads” the OCPA report.

McKeever said the authors, “claim that as revenues in higher education have risen, spending has increased to match it.” He asserted the writers had reversed “cause and effect. The revenue increases have been caused by cost increases. These have been greater than inflation because of the need for new technology in the classrooms, replacement of old facilities beyond their useful life — a continuing problem — and mandatory cost increases, including health care, energy and federal compliance mandates.”

McKeever assailed the OCPA-sponsored report’s conclusions that state higher education is making “shockingly small” investments in “instruction.” He then noted that instruction, outreach and research are among OSU’s mandated responsibilities. 

McKeever, “Nowhere in the report do the authors mention that, as a percentage of higher education’s expenditures, financial support from the state has declined in recent years. State-supported higher education institutions have had to become more entrepreneurial and to look for alternative sources of income to maintain standards, while serving growing student populations. Although one of the alternative sources is increased tuition, Oklahoma still has among the nation’s lowest tuition rates.”

McKeever also chided OCPA for an article on tuition increases written by Brandon Dutcher and Jonathan Small, a vice president and a fiscal analyst, respectively, at the group. The OSU professor wrote, “If decisions are indeed made based on this report, a societal travesty with long-term consequences will undoubtedly result.”

Today, Denhart responded, “McKeever misses the point about the marginal effect of increasing state appropriations. We state clearly that our analysis does not suggest that economic growth would have been better without any investment in higher education. Rather, our analysis suggests that universities currently are not doing a good job of efficiently using the resources they have, and additional investment would not be fruitful for economic growth. This is very different from saying that there should be no investment in higher education.

“Mr. McKeever suggests that using the report would result in ‘a social travesty.’ But the reality is that while tuition continues to climb every year, graduation rates at even Oklahoma’s best universities are shamefully low and college graduates are fleeing the state. That’s the real travesty. A new approach is clearly needed.

“McKeever correctly points out that Oklahoma universities have seen rising costs, and indeed many (such as healthcare costs) are largely beyond their control. But this is not an excuse. Oklahoma’s leaders need to reevaluate current operations and programs to make strategic cuts rather than simply sticking taxpayers and students with ever more expensive bills.”
Matgouranis, Denhart’s co-author, said in an email to CapitolBeatOK: “Mr. McKeever ignores a fundamental problem in his analysis about the rising costs. With the ability to collect more revenue every year in order to keep up with their ravenous spending, the system as a whole has no incentive to cut costs. Because of third party payments, namely federal student loans and grants, Oklahoma’s universities, in their ever ‘entrepreneurial’ ways, just pass on the costs to the students.”

Dutcher said, “It’s no surprise that the defenders of the status quo continue to criticize our report, though it is disappointing coming from a cabinet secretary for a conservative governor. Our data and analysis speak for themselves, and I strongly, strongly urge taxpayers to read the report for themselves. After all, it’s their money.”

McKeever was among a group of Fallin administration officials who traveled to the recent Paris Air Show, at a cost of $84,000. Sean Murphy of The Associated Press reported the story, which was printed in today’s editions of The Oklahoman.