When John Kasich tapped John Carey last week to serve as the next chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, he touted the progress he sees in higher education. “The reforms we’ve made to date,” the governor argued in a statement, “have led to greater collaboration among the universities, an increased emphasis on research commercialization and a funding plan that focuses on improving graduation rates.”
All true, to greater or lesser degrees, many troubled, for instance, by the shift at the Third Frontier project, away from the role of university research in laying a foundation for economic advances over the long term.
Carey, a former state lawmaker and currently an assistant to the president of Shawnee State University, will carry the agenda forward. The state’s universities and colleges should be pressed on their graduation rates. They should look for efficiencies, the University of Akron currently weighing how to close a $26.7 million deficit. Unfortunately, what too many at the Statehouse overlook is the lack of investment in key areas of higher education.
The neglect borders on the scandalous, and promises to affect all of us. In some ways, it already has.
The governor’s proposed two-year state budget does include a modest increase in state spending on higher education, 0.6 percent in the first year and 2.3 percent in the second, according to the Center for Community Solutions. Worth more attention is the trend of recent decades. State colleges and universities have had a bright moment or two, the early Strickland years, for instance. Mostly, they have suffered.
Another analysis by the Center for Community Solutions, issued last summer, calculated that since 2000, state spending on higher education had declined 30 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars. Policy Matters Ohio recently shared these numbers: In 1991, Ohio dedicated $7.03 of every $1,000 in state personal income to higher education. By 2000, the sum was $6.30, and then dropped to $4.57 in 2011. More, the study charted a dramatic plunge in state need-based financial aid since 2009.
Practically everyone knows the result: Students and their families have picked up an increasing share of the rising cost of college. They often have done so through student loans, in Ohio and across the country.
Consider an analysis released this month by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. It notes how student debt has expanded the past decade, from one quarter of Americans age 25 with student debt to 43 percent last year. The average debt burden roughly has doubled, growing from $10,469 to $20,326.
Some university officials play down the burden, arguing that the expense compares to buying a car. Here is where the New York Fed report really begins to trouble. It found that young college graduates and others with student debt are less likely today to buy a car or home.
That is a change. In the past, those with a college education were more likely to make such purchases than their contemporaries without debt. A college education signaled the prospect of higher earnings.
The analysis suggests two possible reasons for the shift, the size of student loan debt leaving little room for other borrowing, plus lenders backing away from those with heavy student loans. Whatever the case, the conclusion is hard to miss: Student loan debt may be harming the markets for cars and homes, and thus the economy overall.
Carol Biliczky, a Beacon Journal staff writer, lately has been telling the story of part-time faculty at the University of Akron and other campuses in Ohio. One revelation in her reporting is that UA part-time faculty carry half of the undergraduate course load.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that arrangement, the university with its own two-year college, university officials citing the high-quality of the part-timers. What is, well, shocking is the level of their pay — about $3,000 to teach a course, without benefits, some on Medicaid.
Most part-timers are not local executives, attorneys or other professionals who bring practical experience into a classroom. For many, this is how they make a living, teaching multiple classes at multiple schools, and universities appear pleased to have them do the work.
No one expects part-timers to be treated like the full-time faculty. Yet something appears amiss when part-timers carry half of the course load, and receive 15 percent of the pay. Or when three dozen of the top UA administrators earn more than half in cash compensation what 1,000 part-time faculty earn as a group, a point stressed by the New Faculty Majority, the advocacy arm of part-timers.
UA officials recently chose to reduce the teaching hours of part-timers rather than risk the cost of providing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act to those working more than 30 hours a week.
That was a business decision borne of scarce resources. Yet, as a state, if we believe in the importance of higher education, and we should, then we must do better by the students we send there, easing the weight of student loans and paying a decent wage to those who teach them.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.