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Ohio Higher Ed Leaders Meet On College Affordability

The forum was timely, given that Faber and the Ohio Legislature just passed a budget that froze tuition and increased state support for two- and four-year institutions.

College affordability has been in the news recently. President Barack Obama recently unveiled a plan that relies on community colleges, while the two top Democratic presidential candidates are talking up different plans they’ve developed. But leaders in Ohio are showing that they’re past the proposal phase and already putting their plans to action.

To Senate President Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina, the issue of paying for college effects a wide range of people; whether you’re a current or former student, a parent, or as in Faber’s case the husband of a doctorate student.

Faber says there’s been a trend of soaring prices that must end.

“For too long higher education has increased its cost because it could the answer is we no longer can we no longer should and from a legislators perspective we’re not going to allow it to happen anymore. We’re going to start demanding—demanding cost control and frankly demanding quality,” said Faber.

Faber offered these remarks during a panel discussion in Urbana west of Columbus, joined by Ohio State University President Michael Drake and Clark State Community College President Jo Alice Blondin.

The forum was timely, given that Faber and the Ohio Legislature just passed a budget that froze tuition and increased state support for two- and four-year institutions. The Senate also included a challenge to all of the colleges and universities to find a way to cut student costs by five percent.

Faber has said that Ohio’s higher education leaders have proven they can take on these challenges, which he says are more effective than government mandates.

“Legislators can certainly set priorities and we can certainly help guide but without leadership, without leadership in the higher education institutions we can’t get the job done,” Faber said.

This issue has become a main point of focus for Drake - the OSU president told his staff he wants to cut $200 million from general expenditures, which totals $5 billion this year, while also finding ways of increasing revenue by $200 million.

Drake says there’s a fine line between cutting costs and losing academic value.

“There’s a tension between those so if you cut too much you lose value but if you make yourself more efficient, you can also be more effective and we want to be more efficient, more effective, more affordable, more accessible and more excellent,” said Drake.

For example, Drake tells his staff to approach traveling on business the way they would as individuals - with a frugal eye always looking for ways to save, instead of relying on a big pot of travel funds.

Top government leaders—such as President Barack Obama and Gov. John Kasich—have praised community colleges as a resourceful way to save money. Blondin says Clark State Community College is a good example of that, with the school offering nearly 90 programs ranging from health care to public safety education.

Here’s what Clark State is doing to cut costs. If a student completes 15 credit hours in a semester then the school reduces that student’s tuition by 10 percent for the next semester. If they do 12 credit hours then there’s a five percent reduction.

And as Blondin puts it, just because her institution offers these rebates that doesn’t mean they’re losing money.

“Frankly when you do the math and you realize that you’re incentivizing students maybe to go from 9 credit hours to 12 credit hours—12 credit hours to 15 credit hours—you’re actually increasing the revenue for the campus so there’s some real opportunities for us,” Blondin said.

But college costs and budgets are controversial. The University of Akron is at the center of an example of that controversy for the way it’s dealing with a $60 million shortfall. It’s hiked fees and moved up tuition payment deadlines. And students and staff have protested over cuts to hundreds of jobs and the university’s baseball program, along with closing its book publisher the University of Akron Press and the EJ Thomas Performing Arts Hall. It’s also spent nearly a million dollars on renovations to the president’s university-owned home.