Education First: Ohio Higher Education Report for 2016-2017, Part 5



What follows is the fifth 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, as well as to the two posts in this series, are provided at the end of this post.



Ohio universities have spent unprecedented amounts on buildings and athletic programs. It has happened in the face of state budget cuts, declining enrollments, and tuition increases, seemingly to compete for a new generation of students who seek campus amenities far beyond what institutions customarily have offered.

Far beyond modernizing classrooms with today’s technology and building out of necessity, institutions have been on a spending spree, more than doubling total debt over 10 years.

[Campus Accountability: Institutional Financial Ratios Audited Data. Department of higher Education.]

Institutions finance building projects in several ways: capital funding from the state, donations, and borrowing. As of early 2016, Ohio’s universities found themselves inching toward $7 billion worth of debt, the vast majority of which was amassed from construction.

Make no mistake about it–-students end up footing the bill for these costly ventures. For example, according to a Columbus Dispatch editorial, Even a small fee tacked onto student loans can snowball. The $110 per-semester student fee Miami University charges to finance its $53 million Armstrong Student Center…looks manageable enough. But added to a student loan, at 4.5 percent interest over 10 years, this increases the amount to be repaid by $1,100.” [“Analyzing the Building Boom.” Columbus Dispatch. February 24, 2015.]

Institutions are taking a gamble in financing construction on the backs of students, especially in an era of uncertain enrollment. They are building in the name of attracting students, yet risk alienating them with high fees. Colleges and universities must be more restrained when it comes to additional projects, and the state should consider capping the amount that institutions can borrow, as other states have done.

Athletics is another costly venture that is siphoning money away from academics. Only one athletic department, Ohio State, does not rely on funds diverted from academic budgets. In the 2014-15 academic year, Ohio universities took $15.5 million more from the academic side of the institutions than they did in the 2012-13 academic year to subsidize athletics. In total, universities spent almost $30 million more in 2014-15 than they did in 2012-13.

[NCAA Finances. USA Today.]

At the very least, public institutions must be more transparent about what students are financing with their tuition and fees. If students demand state-of-the-art classrooms, modern student unions, apartment-style dormitories, and athletic teams, parents and students alike must understand that these things come at a high price.

Ohio’s public universities should start prioritizing education over buildings and athletics. Beautiful buildings and sports teams are enjoyable, but become meaningless if the institution cannot fund the full-time faculty necessary to provide quality education at affordable prices for Ohio citizens.


Previous Post in This Series:

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1:

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 2:

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 3:…2016-2017-part-3/.

2017 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 4:


Links to 2015 Ohio Higher Education Report

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 1:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 2:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 3:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 4:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 5:

2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, Part 6:


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