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Ohio State Moving To Offer 'Zero Debt' Bachelor's Degree

The Ohio State University campus sign
Angie Wang
Associated Press

In her first "State of the University" address, Ohio State president Kristina Johnson said the university is moving toward ensuring all undergraduates leave campus debt-free.

“This is well within our reach, and we will lead the nation as the first university to offer a zero-debt bachelor’s degree at scale,” Johnson said.

Johnson did not offer details on how the university would do so. An Ohio State spokesman said in a statement on Friday, "Funding for this important initiative will come from a variety of sources, including efficiencies, existing resources, philanthropic giving and more. We look forward to sharing additional deatils with the community soon."  

The zero-debt degree is meant to close the school's achievement gap. Johnson said the graduation rate for low-income students is 11% lower than the school’s average.

Johnson said about 47% of Ohio State students graduate with debt. Among those with debt, the average is about $27,000.

“Almost half our recent alumni with loans tell us they find it difficult to make their payments, and those payments can keep them from taking the jobs they want, going to graduate school or from buying homes,” Johnson said.

In her address, Johnson also said the university plans to hire a minimum of 350 new tenure-track faculty, which she called their most urgent priority. Since 2008, the net number of tenure-track faculty has decreased by 219.

As part of the hiring effort, Ohio State is using a new initiative called RAISE (Race, Inclusion and Social Equity) that will hire 150 of the 350 new faculty members.

At least 50 of those 150 new hires will focus their work and research on racism and racial disparities, and at least 100 of the total faculty members will be from under-represented communities and people of color.