POSTED BY MARTIN KICH
What follows are the introduction and the first section of the most recent higher education report produced by the Ohio Conference of AAUP. John McNay, the President of the Conference, and Sara Kilpatrick, the Executive Director of the Conference, deserves kudos for doing the bulk of the work on this report. The report has been distributed to all of the members of the Ohio legislature and the state’s major newspapers, several of whom have done follow-up investigative reporting on the topics covered in the report.
The previous Ohio Higher Ed Report was similarly published in sections to this blog. The links to those posts are provided at the end of this post.
In 2015, our association released its first ever Ohio Higher Education Report: “The Real Problems Deserve Real Solutions.” The purpose of the report was to raise awareness among the public and state decision-makers of the true cost-drivers in higher education. Until the problems are fully understood, appropriate policy solutions cannot be implemented.
When the problems in higher education are misidentified and misunderstood, short-sighted policy approaches often are employed. The effect is the devaluing of quality education at our public colleges and universities. This can be avoided, in part, by involving all stakeholders in the critical discussions about the future of Ohio higher education.
The popular idea that public colleges and universities should operate more like the private sector is deeply flawed and causes more problems than it is alleviating. The move toward a corporate model has not improved access, affordability, educational quality, or institutional finances.
By focusing so narrowly on short-term costs and benefits, we lose sight of the true value of public education. Our public community colleges and universities should not be viewed as primarily providing job training. Although they are Ohio’s most significant source of workforce development, our institutions of higher education enrich our state more broadly: they enhance the lives of our students and the culture of our communities, and they create knowledgeable citizens able to participate meaningfully in our democracy and economy.
We applaud the progress made in the last legislative session to begin to address the loss in funding that Ohio’s public colleges and universities have faced over many years, as well as the recognition that institutions must modify how they are spending the resources they already are receiving. However, much more work needs to be done to address funding shortfalls and the types of policies that will put our institutions more firmly on the right path.
This report provides information that will encourage effective reforms, ones which will help refocus on the primary purpose of our institutions: education. Until the instructional mission of our colleges and universities is made the focus of state and institutional decision- making, the value of the degrees that our institutions award will continue to be at risk.
STATE FUNDING & THE NEW FORMULA
Nationally, states have disinvested from higher education over the last 20-30 years, and Ohio has been no exception. When push has come to shove in state budgets, higher education has been viewed as a luxury rather than as a necessity. As a result, more of the costs of attainment have been passed on to students, who graduate with heavier and heavier debt. According to the Ohio Attorney General’s website, 68% of Ohio graduates have debt, the average of which is just under $30,000. (1)
But we give credit where credit is due. Gov. Kasich and the 131st General Assembly made State Share of Instruction (SSI) a priority. They restored funding levels similar to where they were under Gov. Strickland’s last budget, a budget that had the benefit of federal stimulus dollars. (2) Nevertheless, in Fiscal Year 2017, Ohio still is spending slightly less than what it was six years ago, while costs continue to increase at institutions. (3)
Ohio’s colleges and universities have met the demands of the state by freezing tuition and taking steps to reduce costs. Certainly, though, more can be done to cut back on non- essential administration, lavish spending on athletics, as well as grandiose construction projects, to focus more resources on quality instruction and to keep costs as low as possible for students. Taxpayers expect that State Share of Instruction (SSI) is, in fact, spent on classroom instruction. The ideal plan of action is for the state to continue to reinvest while institutions do more to address the irresponsible spending that is unnecessarily driving up costs.
The cost of degree attainment undoubtedly has priced certain students out of the market.
U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that Ohio ranks in the bottom third nationally for adults with college degrees – a disconcerting statistic for a state that ranks 5th in number of institutions of higher education. (5) Ohio decision-makers have recognized this problem and have stated that expanding the number of degree holders is an important goal. The question now is: how do we tackle this issue in the most effective way?
Students who come from families of means will continue to enroll at colleges and universities. What is missing is a strategy to build a path for those with fewer resources. Unless the state helps make college more affordable, especially for those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, it cannot expect to attract and retain students in order to achieve more degree holders. We recommend that the state not only invest more in SSI to make college more affordable for all Ohioans, but also significantly reinvest in the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) to enable more low-income students to earn degrees.
Of course, in order to do this, Ohio needs adequate revenue. The lower-than-anticipated projected revenue estimates are alarming, but unsurprising. The state is in desperate need of funding for all levels of education, but state government has been playing a shell game with the tax system, which disproportionately benefits the wealthy and is reducing what is coming into the state coffers. Lawmakers should reassess the tax changes that have been implemented over the last four years in order to move toward a fairer system, as well as to generate the much-needed resources to fund public services like higher education.
(1) Student Loan Center. Ohio Attorney General. http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/StudentLoans
(2) Budget in detail, as enacted. 128th General Assembly. http://www.lsc.ohio.gov/fiscal/bid128/budgetindetail-hb1-en- fy09actexp.pdf
(3) Budget in detail, as enacted. 131st General Assembly. http://obm.ohio.gov/Budget/operating/doc/fy-16- 17/enacted/budgetindetail-hb64-en.pdf
(4) Ohio Ranks 36th for college degrees. Cleveland Plain Dealer. September 25, 2015. http://www.cleveland.com/datacentral/index.ssf/2015/09/ohio_ranks_36th_for_college_de.html
Links to 2015 Ohio Higher Education Report
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/20/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-1/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/20/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-2/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 3: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/21/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-3/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 4: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/21/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-4/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 5: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-5/
2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 6: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/27/2015-ohio-higher-education-report-part-6/.
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