The University Center of Southern Oklahoma officially closed out the first piece of its new campus on Thursday.

During the UCSO Board of Trustees regular meeting, the trustees approved the final formality for the Health, Science and Math Center, which officially opened its doors to students earlier this year. A final change order was needed to close out the project, finalizing the final price to be paid to Fenix Constructors at $14,802,895.13. The project was completed at $141,312 below budget, which allowed UCSO to use the remaining balance in the Contingency fund for additional furnishings.

Gary Farabough, UCSO Board of Trustees chairman, applauded the trustees for their service in completing the project.

“Every time I walk in here I just smile,” Farabough said to start the meeting.

Steve Mills, president of UCSO, said the transition into the new building “is nearly complete” and that all summer classes are already being conducted in the new building, except for ITV courses. UCSO hopes to grow the new campus to include several buildings, and even dorms potentially, in the future.

The board continued the meeting and hit several hot topic issues on the agenda, particularly issues surrounding tuition and the budget. Higher education received word last week it would receive a cut of 6 percent to state allocations. Higher education has seen a downward trend in funding, with UCSO’s budget painting a clear picture in the decline. The budget has steadily decreased since Fiscal Year 2014, where the general operating budget was just more than $1.6 million. Since then, the annual general operating budget has taken a dive, with the proposed budget only at $1.3 million for Fiscal Year 2018.

“It’s a tough issue,” Farabough said during the meeting. “We’ve been down this road before.”

The proposed budget takes several assumptions into consideration, including the 6 percent cut, a 2,000 credit hour reduction in enrollment from partners East Central University and Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the budget eliminates all contracted security and assumes concurrent enrollment is reimbursed at 26 percent.

Mills said budget also assumes an increase in utilities and maintenance costs, as upkeep for the new building will higher than the previous expenses. The budget — which assumes an increase from$279,627.93 to $308,390 in the maintenance, groundskeeping and utility costs — is based on costs for upkeep on the building for the last six months, though Mills said those numbers could fluctuate.

“We haven’t been through a summer here and we haven’t been through a lot of things here,” Mills said.

In order to help the hit from the cut in state allocation, a $1 increase per credit hour for tuition was proposed during the meeting. The increase, which is an increase of roughly 2.5 percent, would help UCSO absorb the more than $60,000 decrease in state funds from last year. The $1 increase would generate $20,000 to $25,000.

“We went up the minimum possible we could go,” Mills said. “But at the same time we can’t just not do anything.”

Mills explained that several institutions will likely increase tuition by at least 5 percent, as all of higher education is dealing with reductions in funds. Gary Greene, UCSO Board of Trustees, expressed concern about the tuition increase, citing the possibility of pricing out some lower income students from attending UCSO.

Several of the board members also expressed concern about the increase, but the timing of budget requirements in the state limits exploring other options. The reduction in state allocation was only completely realized last week and a budget must be board approved and submitted to the state by June 14. Mills explained that a budget had to be approved during the Thursday meeting in order to be submitted in time for budget hearings.

Eric Holquin, UCSO Board of Trustees vice-chair who also sits on the budget committee, explained the budget committee felt the budget “was the best we could submit,” but noted that the committee will work with Mills to identify changes that can be made to expenditures throughout the year.

The proposed budget takes the $1 increase in tuition into account.

The tuition increase passed 7-1, with Greene voting ‘no.’ The Fiscal Year 2018 proposed budget for the general operating fund and the capital outlay fund were both approved unanimously.