Kasich proposes tuition freeze extension

Cameron Gorman

Ohio Gov. John Kasich has proposed a tuition freeze for all public institutions of higher education — one that would continue the current tuition freeze in place at Kent State  under Ohio’s current budget bill.

“The cost of higher education has been a concern of the governor from the very beginning,” said Chancellor of The Ohio Department of Education John Carey. “He’s worked with all the presidents, including (Kent State) President (Beverly) Warren, in order to try to reduce costs to students.”

The freeze will prevent the school from raising the cost of tuition for students — “freezing” it in place — and is part of Kasich’s proposed 860-page budget recommendations, which would be enacted during the 2018-19 fiscal year. 

The budget would allow community colleges in Ohio to award students with applied bachelor’s degrees, provide additional funding to make college more affordable and other educational benefits.  

“On average, our tuition in Ohio was higher, so by the tuition freeze, it brings us closer to the national average,” Carey said. “I think from the most recent report that I saw … Ohio’s university tuition (is) about 6 percent higher on average than its counterparts nationally.”

The current undergraduate tuition cost at Kent State — for Ohioans — is $10,012 each year and has been frozen since the 2016 fiscal year. Educational and general expenditures, however, increased $14.6 million on Kent State’s main campus from 2015-16.

 “The tuition freeze will hold revenues flat while costs rise due to inflation,” said Lisa Reifsnyder, senior associate vice president of finance and administration. “Even with the efficiency measures that the university has enacted, the extension of the tuition freeze will create a challenging budget environment.”

There is concern of reduced available funds from tuition for the university’s budget and expenditure, but Carey said student affordability is the priority.

“Higher education has a lot of talented people, so I think that … we see much of that. Kent State, of course, has done some great things, but we think in order to keep college affordable for Ohio students, we have to hold the line on costs,” Carey said. “I guess the concern more is that we make college more affordable for students and we work with our higher education partners to make that happen.”

Reifsnyder said the university is looking to innovate ways to reduce costs — including energy efficiency in buildings and a negotiation of new electric rates, which resulted in a 13 percent rate decrease.

“Some university costs are fixed based on contracts, but there are areas that we have or will focus (on) to reduce cost or slow the increase in cost,” Reifsnyder said. “Utilities are significant cost items for the university.”

Reifsnyder said Kent State has gone through a series of projects over the past few years to increase energy efficiency, with its final phase currently being implemented.

“These efficiencies reduce the energy usage and therefore the cost,” she said.

The freeze may not mean colleges looking for ways to keep up with expenditures, won’t still find a way to increase fees. This fact was exemplified when junior and senior students at The University of Akron experienced a 12 percent fee increase that technically did not increase tuition in 2015.

“Personally, I think they’re (tuition costs) too high,” said freshman digital media production major Matthew Wolf. “I think it’ll help, especially because — on average from last year, if I remember correctly — they were raising 3-5 percent every year, and if they continued like that, I think a lot of people wouldn’t be able to afford to go to college, even less than now.”

The budget doesn’t just propose a freeze. In addition, it suggests that schools may charge students a $300 textbook fee in exchange for the university covering the cost of textbooks for their students.

“It was originally, as we were doing the proposal, determined that the average cost for students for textbooks is $600 annually,” said Jeff Robinson, director of communications at the Ohio Department of Higher Education. “And so what is proposed in the budget would allow colleges to remove half of that cost … charging students up to $300 and then schools would cover … the rest of the cost for students. The proposal would be a collaboration between the department and schools.”

“The proposed provision regarding textbooks would not be in effect until the 2018-’19 academic year,” Reifsnyder said. “We are currently evaluating the potential effect of this proposed legislation, but initial estimates indicate that this could be a significant additional cost that would have to be factored into the university budget.”

Kasich’s proposed budget is being introduced into the House of Representatives this month. Hearings and votes will be held in Ohio’s House and Senate until June, where it may be approved by June 30.

“We’re about 43 percent of postsecondary attainment,” Carey said, “which includes —  in Ohio — (an) advanced degree, a bachelor’s degree, or associate’s degree or … certificate. We need to be at about 65 percent by 2045. And so we have to have as many different pathways as students — traditional and nontraditional students — can pursue to make that happen.”

Cameron Gorman is a senior reporter, contact her at [email protected].