College Leaders Say Ohio’s New Education Plan a Good Start

COLUMBUS, Ohio

College administrators generally support Ohio’s new goals of making higher education more affordable through lower tuition and more accountable by setting up a system of benchmarks.

Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut released his 10-year plan last week, urging public colleges to improve quality. The crux of the plan is to revive Ohio’s economy in an era that is demanding more and more skilled workers.

“Are these the right goals? I don’t know, but they’re a good start,” said Ronald Abrams, executive director of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. “We can always refine the benchmarks, but the important thing is to hold ourselves up to a set of high standards.”

Gov. Ted Strickland tapped Fingerhut as his college chancellor and charged him with shaking up the state’s higher education system. Fingerhut’s response was to set broad goals on improving access, quality, affordability and economic leadership.

Fingerhut wants to increase enrollment in state schools from 472,600 to 702,600 by 2017, make community college tuition among the 10 least expensive in the country and create an online database where parents and prospective students can compare schools based on financial aid, graduation rates and price.

“It’s a quantum leap forward from where we are,” said Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, which represents the state’s 13 public universities and one freestanding medical school.

Many colleges already keep track of specific measures, but Fingerhut’s plan would make comparisons among schools easier for the public.

“It allows us to get an overall picture of what we need to work on, and to make sure we’re not investing too much in one area while starving another,” said Julie Carpenter-Hubin, Ohio State University’s director of institutional research and planning.

State aid to the institutions would depend on how well they meet their goals.

Fingerhut said he 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.

But the plan doesn’t detail how exactly the state would tie performance to funding.

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