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  • Nick Bates

Fiscal Focus: Higher Education

Why the Public Should Invest Higher education is critical for Ohio in developing the skills of tomorrow, inspiring new innovation, and developing an insightful and compassionate society.  In addition to providing degrees and certifications, Ohio’s colleges foster diversity of thought. Through our colleges and universities, Ohio becomes an attractive place to learn, invest, and raise a family, because great public services lead to stronger communities.

The Current Reality Ohio has an outstanding system of public colleges and universities.  There are 13 public institutions that have four-year degree programs and 23 community and technical colleges.  The state of Ohio administers its support for these programs through the Ohio board of Regents.  Between fiscal year 2011 and FY 2012, the Ohio Board of Regents had a cut of over 9% for a total budget of $2.3 billion in 2012 and $2.4 billion in 2013.

Tuition increases have been a common trend for Ohio students. For example, The Ohio State University has increased tuition 7% over the past 2 years for an average tuition of $10,216 per academic year for in-state students. University of Miami tuition is $13,067 and Bowling Green is $10,393.  Ohio’s community colleges saw an increase of 12% between the school year starting in 2008 and 2011.

To meet these rising costs, students are more reliant on state and federal aid programs.  Prior to 2009, Ohio ranked 18th for the availability of need based college aid, but as a result to cuts in state assistance programs Ohio now ranks 35th. Neighboring states all rank better than Ohio. The state of Ohio has offered the Ohio College Opportunities Grant (OCOG) as a primary source of need based aid. OCOG was created in 2006 to replace previous grant programs for low and moderate-income students.  In FY2008-09 the state provided $352 million for OCOG. After years of cuts, OCOG is currently funded at $160 million for FY 2012-13.

In 2011, the state adopted, the “Pell First” policy, which required OCOG funds to be given out only after Pell Grant distributions.  The OCOG funds are distributed based on the unmet need of tuition for low-income students, and since the Pell Grant covers the cost of community college tuition, it eliminates these students from eligibility. However this eliminates need-based aid for living expenses, materials and other costs that college students incur. Adults, low-income individuals, and non-traditional students rely on the low cost, flexible schedules, and the accessibility of Ohio’s community colleges for their education. Research has recently shown that student debt from 2-year colleges has risen in Ohio as a result of this policy change.

The 2014-15 Budget Governor Kasich introduced changes to the structure of higher education funding in November of 2012 after months of conversations with university presidents. These proposals are incorporated into his budget proposal released on Monday Feb. 4th.  These changes will be vetted and considered over the next few months as part of the budget process.

The changes focus on how the state will distribute funds to local colleges and universities. In the new formula there will be a focus on course enrollment and graduation compared to student enrollment at the institution. There will also be a formula that will regulate tuition increases based on state averages.  While we will need the full budget and time to analyze many programs, OGOG at the same basic funding levels from the 2012-13 budget to the 14-15 budget.

In addition to the static funding level of OCOG, the proposed budget, does not remove the Pell Grant priority rule. With Pell Grants falling an average of $3,000-$5,400 short in financial need, college affordability will likely be a point of conversation in this upcoming budget debate.  Many advocates hope to remove the Pell Grant Priority rule and increase OCOG funding. By making college more affordable, it will reduce debt on students leaving college and entering the workforce.

The overall funding levels for the Board of Regents remains static for higher education with a 0% increase in 2014 and a slight 2% increase in 2015.  New investments by the state would have the potential to expand opportunities for students, reduce tuition and fees, and continue to provide an excellent system of public higher education that will provide diverse offerings for all Ohioans.

Speak Up! If you would like to get involved as the state budget nears and our advocacy increases, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or sign up for our emails. Please read our past Fiscal Focus articles on K-12 education, state parks, mental health, senior services, or privatization.

If you’re interested in additional information on higher education in the state budget or have any other related question, please contact us.

#FiscalFocus #higherEd

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