Oklahoma City, Ok. – The State Regents for Higher Education's request is for an additional $51.3 million in state appropriations for the next year, 6.3 percent more than this year's adjusted appropriation of $815 million. Mandatory cost increases in areas such as health and dental insurance, risk management insurance, teachers retirement and utilities make up almost half of the priortiy budget request, about $25 million. Health and dental insurance costs alone will increase 18 percent during calendar year 2003. And providing health insurance for faculty, staff and other support personnel is a priority. The funding for several of the state's scholarhip programs is expected to climb as more students become eligible next year. According to Chancellor Hans Brish, the gains made over the past 15 years since he accepted the state position to help create a nationally competititve system of higher education must not fall by the wayside. State Regents also are requesting an additional $7.7 million to fund the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program that provides free tuition to high school seniors meeting certain academic and other guidlines, Oklahoma Tuition Aid Grant program and Academic Scholars program. They also approved some $400 million in budget needs that if funded would let institututions approach the funding levels of their peers in other states as well as fund all endowed chairs eligible for matching money.