Ohio Plan Would Allow Adult Learners to Convert Certificates Into a Degree

COLUMBUS Ohio — The cost to attend an Ohio university would be among the lowest in the nation in 10 years under goals outlined Monday to reverse the state’s trend of high tuition and lower-than-average college attendance.

Lowering the costs for students would give more Ohioans access to higher education, one of the three prongs of a 10-year plan by Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut that also seeks to keep more college graduates in Ohio and attract them from out of state. The crux of the plan is to revive Ohio’s economy in an era that is demanding more and more skilled workers.

The goal of drastically lowering what students pay for college depends partially on the state committing more dollars to higher education in the coming years, something it had recently failed to do until a two-year tuition freeze was implemented in the current budget.

Ohio currently ranks 39th in the nation in the amount of state money it puts towards higher education on a per student basis. The comparatively low state expenditure is one of the factors that has led to Ohio having some of the highest tuition rates nationwide for its public colleges and universities.

Attending Ohio State University as an in-state student currently costs about $8,700 for tuition and general fees, while attending the University of Georgia, for example, costs about $2,800.

To reach the national average on per student expenditure, Ohio would have to spend about $420 million more based on current year figures. The 10-year plan calls on the state to boost spending in many of the years ahead to reach the goal.

“It’s clearly possible for the state in good years to help us move toward this goal,” said Fingerhut.

Budget constraints in tough economic times like the projected minimum $733 million deficit that Gov. Ted Strickland says exists could challenge lawmakers in their attempt to increase higher education funding in future years. But Strickland and lawmakers have decided to preserve the current tuition freeze when proposing cuts to fill the projected deficit.

“It’s up to the governor and legislative bodies to do all we can to see that this plan has sufficient resources to succeed,” Strickland said.

House Speaker Jon Husted, a Republican, said he supported the goals of Fingerhut’s plan.

“The speaker’s goals for higher education have been to increase affordability and access for higher education, and to help Ohioans gain the skills they need to be successful,” said Husted spokeswoman Karen Stivers.

Fingerhut’s plan also seeks to increase state aid by bringing greater efficiency through increased collaboration between Ohio’s colleges and universities. Schools will be encouraged to develop specialty programs that fit their missions or regions where they are located.

The University System of Ohio will oversee the creation of a set of state goals that each individual institution would play a part in achieving. State aid to the institutions will depend on how well they meet goals involving their roles.

Fingerhut wants to end the system in which state funding is based on enrollment increases or declines, which he said spurs competition and overlapping programs in different schools.

Inter-University Council President and Chief Executive Bruce Johnson applauded Fingerhut’s goals and emphasis on improving Ohio’s economic future. But he cautioned against an overspecialization at the state’s institutions. The council represents the 13 state universities and a standalone college of medicine.

“Inherent in the idea of a university is a wide variety of educational options,” said Johnson, who believes some competition between university programs is healthy.

Fingerhut’s proposals stem from officials’ belief that Ohio does not currently have a highly educated work force that will attract the skilled jobs of the future. Almost half of Ohio adults from 25 to 54 hold no more than a high school diploma, and only a third have a college degree.

Strickland wants to increase college enrollment by 230,000 students or 49 percent by 2017. Half of that increase would come from adult learners, who would have the opportunity to convert technical and basic academic credits into credit for a bachelor’s degree. Adult learning centers would essentially become part of the community college network.

To keep college graduates in Ohio, officials hope to expand connections between businesses and institutions such as internship programs, which may lead to future full-time employment. By 2017, officials want to double the amount of students participating in internships and co-ops with Ohio companies to 100,000.

Building up the state’s research centers would help attract college graduates from out of state, officials hope.

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