In their budget bill, House Republicans took aim at student voters — and university budgets — by adding a requirement that institutions of higher education providing utility bills for voter identification grant such students in-state tuition. Fortunately, the language is running into strong opposition as the Senate takes up the two-year budget.
Democrats and voting rights advocates rightly fear that universities, threatened with the loss of revenue from higher tuition charged to out-of-state students, would simply stop providing the documentation needed for students to gain access to the polls. As it is, the requirements for voting and those for in-state tuition couldn’t be more different. Voting requires a 30-day residency period, while in-state tuition requires a 12-month stay, with no evidence of outside support.
In separate testimony last week, the Inter-University Council of Ohio weighed in, telling senators that the House budget plan could cost public universities as much as $370 million if all 30,000 eligible students pursued in-state tuition.
Bruce Johnson, the council chief executive, said he would love to give students a break on tuition (the reason House Republicans advanced for their plan), but that would not be possible without more state support for higher education, a priority that has suffered in recent budgets.
Even if you grant House Republicans their wish to lower tuition, the outcome would be yet another blow to the educational opportunities and services offered at a time when the state still has much ground to cover in terms of increasing the percentage of its work force with a college degree.
State Sen. Randy Gardner, a Bowling Green Republican whose subcommittee is hearing the higher education part of the House budget bill, opposes the House proposal on in-state tuition and has detected scant support among his colleagues. Senators would do well to follow Gardner’s lead and reject the House ploy to depress the student vote.
Senators should then examine the tuition issue, making a sincere effort to bring down costs for all students. As Ohio’s economy recovers from a deep recession, increased state support is essential to increasing access to higher education.