As an incoming freshman at the University of Central Oklahoma, Jordan Gilles might have to cope with massive tuition increases in each of the four years he is enrolled.

As an incoming freshman at the University of Central Oklahoma, Jordan Gilles might have to cope with massive tuition increases in each of the four years he is enrolled.

But a new program that goes into effect this fall will allow Gilles and every other resident freshman at a comprehensive or regional state university to lock in their tuition at a guaranteed rate throughout their four-year degree program.

"I think it's a good idea," Gilles said Wednesday in a hallway at the Nigh University Center on the UCO campus in Edmond. "I'd like to pay the same rate the whole time I'm here."

Supporters of the tuition-lock law, approved by the Legislature last year, said it will permit students and their families to better afford and plan for a college education. But others said the hedge against massive tuition increases may not always pay off because of the way it is structured.

The law allows colleges and universities to increase tuition by up to 15 percent for students who lock in their rates over what an incoming freshman who is not locked in would pay.

For example, Oklahoma State University in Stillwater has proposed charging incoming freshmen $131 per credit hour this fall, but those who lock in their tuition rate will pay $151 per credit hour, said OSU spokesman Gary Shutt.

The higher rate means tuition would have to increase an average of 9.4 percent a year over four years for a student with a locked-in rate to save money, according to officials at OSU and the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Over the past four years, tuition increases have averaged 7.9 percent at OSU and 7.3 percent at OU.

But both schools have proposed tuition increases of 9.9 percent for the upcoming school year.

"We can't predict what's going to happen with costs going up. You are having to make that determination," Shutt said. He described the tuition-lock program as "a viable option for students who want to know what their college costs are going to be over the next four years."

Rep. Tad Jones, chairman of the House Education Committee, said the tuition lock is a good tool for college freshmen and their parents.

"A lot of people would get in and budget their college career and they didn't know what the future would hold," said Jones, R-Claremore. "Now those families will know exactly how much they will have to pay for the next four years as they prepare their budgets."

"I wish I'd have had that," said Elaysha Swinnie, a senior in fashion marketing at UCO. "It should be like one set rate the entire time."

Swinnie said tuition hikes have forced some students to drop out of school because the increases were not budgeted and they could not afford it. Other students have been forced to go deeper into debt to afford tuition increases, said UCO senior Tyria Johnson.

The ever-increasing cost of tuition is the reason lawmakers created the tuition-lock law, said state Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, the measure's House sponsor.

Since 2004, tuition and fees at Oklahoma schools have increased more than 50 percent. The new tuition-lock law will have no effect on mandatory fee increases at colleges and universities.

"There was a clear need to help families plan for their children's college years and unpredictable increases made that all but impossible," Denney said.

Dale Dewalt, a graduate student in public administration at OU, said he has had to absorb tuition increases since he enrolled as a freshman in 2001.

"Every year it went up," Dewalt said. "It's really good for students and their families to know exactly how much their going to be paying."

But the program could cause new financial hardships for colleges and universities struggling to pay higher costs for fuel and health care.

"What that will do is force the school to raise tuition even more for the next round of students," Dewalt said.


Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.