A year ago, John Kasich asked the presidents of the state’s colleges and universities to collaborate in setting priorities for higher eduction in the capital budget. The experiment went well. So this fall, the governor looked to repeat the success, calling on the schools to work together in revamping the way the state routes money to their institutions. He formed the Ohio Higher Education Funding Commission, chaired by E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University.
The idea has brought success again, the commission members crafting a formula that places a much greater emphasis on the graduation rate. That is where the priority should be, increased enrollment representing a start, degree completion serving as the more telling measure of a higher education system. The panel proposes that at four-year schools, 50 percent of state funding reflect the graduation rate, up from the current 18 percent.
The work builds on the direction taken by Ted Strickland and Eric Fingerhut, the previous governor and chancellor of the state Board of Regents. Yet as necessary as the changes are, the steep challenge shouldn’t be missed. What the commission has proposed is a framework. The actual dollar amounts will arrive after the governor unveils his two-year budget plan early next year, and the legislature then sets the appropriation levels.
To its credit, the commission has recognized the variations among institutions, say, between four-year schools and community colleges. There even is a wide gap between a Miami of Ohio, a graduation rate around 85 percent, and the University of Akron, roughly 40 percent, involving bachelor’s degrees after six years. To a large extent, this reflects differing missions, something that must be part of a sound formula.
The commission rightly added weighted factors for funding, accounting for the academically at risk, the financially at risk, plus age and race. Worth noting are the many Ohioans, age 25 to 34, partially toward a degree. A school performs a huge favor for the students and the state as a whole in achieving a path to completion. Whatever the route, it will not be easy.
The governor offered reassuring words in his declaration: “You’re a priority for us. We’re not going to cut you.” Yet the reality is, higher education has been squeezed of late in the state budget, after too many years of neglect. As Bruce Johnson, the president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, told the Gongwer News Service, the task of remediation, of getting many students ready for college and to a degree, is expensive.
More, the high cost of higher education remains a barrier, a significant easing requiring a larger public investment. All of this isn’t to diminish the work of the commission. It has proposed important steps forward. What deserves attention is the hard work still ahead, if Ohio is going to upgrade the quality of its work force and become more competitive and prosperous in the global economy.