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Okla. college freshmen could see financial break

Lawton_Incoming freshmen at Oklahoma's public universities could see a financial break, soon - they can choose to freeze their tuition.  While tuition is up statewide, first-time students will be able to "lock" their college costs for four years, which means that whatever they are paying this semester, they will continue to pay the same rate for their entire four-year degree program.  Cameron University in Lawton saw a tuition increase of more than 9% for 2008 - the largest in quite some time.  However, university officials say the new program will keep their enrollment numbers strong. 

The new locked rate per credit hour for 2008 is $14 more than this semester's regular tuition.  However, with Cameron's past tuition increases, it could be only a matter of months before students start to see some savings. 

Cameron students are busy this week - paying for classes, purchasing textbooks, and preparing for their first day of classes.  And, it's not cheap!  Elementary Education Junior Daffinee Henson says attending university is costing her a small fortune.  "I think it's ridiculous," she said.  "I think it's outrageous!  The prices are just going up and up every year.  When you start out at a locked rate - it's never going to change," she said.  "As to where my tuition is going to increase every year, so those people are really lucky."

The cost of pursuing higher education is part of the reason that the Oklahoma State Legislature passed House Bill 33-97 during the session earlier this year.  It establishes the guaranteed tuition program for Oklahoma in-state resident freshmen.  Cameron University Business Management freshman Tony Borer enrolled in the program, and says it's good to have assurance that his tuition will not rise every single year - especially with the current, and rising, cost of living.  "If the money keeps going up that's required to go here then, it will help me out in the long run because it will keep my tuition lower," he said.

However, there are rules.  Oklahoma college and university students - entering as freshmen only - must continue to be enrolled full-time - at least 12 credit hours per semester for four full years.  If a student takes a break, or drops below full-time status, they will lose the locked rate.  Cameron University Enrollment Manager Jamie Glover says she hopes it will cause more students to complete their education and graduate.  "Hopefully that would provide incentive to those students to continue and go ahead and push forward and complete that degree," she said.

Borer says he fears the new rate could actually cost in the long-run.  "If the economy becomes better, and the tuition starts dropping again, that kind of messes you over," he said.  Since "locked-in" students must pay the rate that the school charges - no matter how low tuition costs drop, some students could possibly pay less than currently enrolling students.  However, all-in-all, Borer says he thinks the plan is a good idea.  "I think it helps out a lot."

According to the bill, students enrolled in the program, who transfer to another Oklahoma university will have a guaranteed tuition rate set at the new institution's current guaranteed rate.  The rate guarantee is for tuition only - it does not apply to books or housing.  The deadline for submitting an application for the program is August 25.

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