the Beacon Journal editorial board

Five years ago, the Center for Community Solutions took “a longitudinal look” at state spending. Among its findings, as it tracked the numbers from 1980 to the present, was the sorry story of higher education, the state in 2010 spending roughly the same (in real dollars) as it did three decades earlier. That failure to invest explains more than anything why Ohio sits in the bottom one-third of states for college graduates and among the highest in tuition costs.

The disappointment deepens in view of the changing economic landscape of the past 30 years, Ohio needing as much any place to navigate well the transition to an economy more driven by minds than strong backs and hands.

In 2010, the state was just beginning to recover from the harsh recession. The Statehouse had pared back spending on many fronts. Now, seven years later, higher education finally has recovered lost ground, aided by a welcome increase in the current state budget. Yet the state still has not made sufficient investment in a sector crucial to its future.

Unfortunately, that isn’t likely to change, even as state officials project that by the end of the decade, 64 percent of Ohioans will need some higher education. In his two-year budget plan for the coming biennium, starting in July, Gov. John Kasich proposed a 1 percent increase in the main source of funding for public colleges and universities. He also called for a tuition freeze. The Ohio House also went, essentially, with flat-funding, though it dropped the freeze. It wants the schools to guarantee a tuition price for four years.

The expectation is that the state Senate will follow the same track, more or less. Yet the door remains open to acting upon the considered recommendation of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, that state colleges and universities need $180 million a year for the biennium to maintain quality and services.

That may seem a large sum. Then, consider the tax relief for “pass through” business income and a corresponding tax rate reduction — $1 billion a year. Or the $8 billion overall in assorted tax credits, deductions and exemptions. This goes to priorities, and an understanding of what analysts have shown: If universities have added administrators and buildings, the primary reason for soaring tuition costs and student debt is the sharp decline in state funding.

A Temple University study last year put the state share of responsibility at 90 percent in Ohio. For the lowest income families, the annual cost of a public university consumes three-quarters of their earnings, or nearly 40 percent to attend a community college. Yet funding for the need-based Ohio College Opportunity Grant remains far below its 2009 level.

The governor and lawmakers often cite the advantages of such things as College Credit Plus, high school students getting a jump minus the college tab. If these steps are helpful, they are partial answers at best, just as the increased number of adjunct faculty is a fiscal maneuver. Yet the importance of the job argues for seeing a large share of adjunct faculty converted to full-time, with pay and benefits to match,

Even that would be affordable for a state truly committed to higher education and to improving its prospects.