Educators hopeful Kasich will address higher education funding in Monday’s State of the State

Gov. John Kasich

Gov. John Kasich

Arielle Campanalie

Gov. John Kasich is traveling to Medina High School for his annual State of the State address Monday, Feb. 24, with higher education being one of his main speaking points.

Though unwilling to delve into specifics regarding the governor’s speech, spokesman Jim Lynch said Kasich might preview some of the policy items that will be included in the state’s Mid-Biennium Review.

Lynch said the Mid-Biennium Review was proposed in 2012 to “further analyze agency spending, programs and policies to weigh the specific needs of each state agency and the citizens it serves.”

Kasich was elected to office in 2011, and since his election, he has claimed to make higher education a “top priority” in the state. Center of Budget and Policy Priorities from fiscal years 2008 to 2013 statistics support Kasich’s claim, noting Ohio is the second lowest in the nation for average tuition increases at a public four-year college. However, this may be some of the only good news for higher education in Ohio.

The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association reports higher education finance for the fiscal year of 2012, and its data showcases Ohio ranking fourth to last in the nation, behind Vermont, Colorado and New Hampshire, in educational appropriations from state support to higher education.  

Ohio is also behind in state support to net tuition. The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association shows that Ohio students have to account for an average of 62.3 percent of their tuition costs, which is behind the national average at 47 percent for the 2012 fiscal year.  

Kasich has increased funding to higher education in the past two years.  Ohio has seen a 4.9 percent annual rate of growth from the fiscal year of 2012-2013, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission historical revenue and expenditures.  

This increase gives higher education 8.3 percent of the total state budget.  Though in 2010, before Kasich took office, Ohio awarded higher education 10.3 percent of its state budget.         

“Obviously, the governor made it a priority to increase funding in the last budget, as you remember, when Gov. Kasich came into office and took on his first budget in 2011, Kasich was left with a $8 billion deficit by the previous governor with only .89 cents in the states rainy day fund,” Lynch said.  “That was a very challenging budget to overcome.  That was not a time where the state saw much increase in funding.”

Last year, Kasich introduced his Executive Budget proposal for the fiscal year of 2014-2015.  The new budget featured a new funding formula in which bases funding for Ohio public colleges upon graduation rates opposed to admittance rates.  

“Ohio is trying to tackle something that no other state has,” Lynch said, “and that is how to bring up better value and quality in higher education.”

However, associate political science professor Thom Yantek, said he believes there are a few issues with this new funding formula.    

“On one hand, it’s an understandable goal,” Yantek said.  “You want to encourage schools to do everything they can to graduate their students.  Personally, I think you have to be pretty cynical and pretty suspicious of educators to think that we are not trying to get students graduated.”

Yantek further explained that graduation rates have a strong correlation with socioeconomic factors in the area of the public university or college.

“If you teach at Miami of Ohio or at The Ohio State for example, you are getting students that come from schools with higher test scores, higher GPAs, better socioeconomic backgrounds, and they’re better prepared to go to college.  Guess who’s going to graduate more students? They’re already ahead of the ball,” Yantek said. “Colleges like Cleveland State, Kent State and the University of Akron tend to get students that are less well-prepared.  Of course, we are going to graduate students at a lower rate, and it doesn’t matter if we do twice a better job of teaching than those other schools.  We are still going to graduate students at a lower rate because of all those socioeconomic characteristics that go into determining success or lack of success in obtaining an education.”

Yantek isn’t the only person who feels this way. Marty Kich, vice president of the Ohio Conference American Association of University Professors, said focusing most of the state’s attention on increasing the number of degrees could affect overall quality.

“I think that everybody agrees that outcomes and assessing outcomes of college universities is important,” Kich said.  “But I think a plan that puts too much emphasis on the degrees that you’re producing is probably going to have an impact on the quality of the degrees.  So, I think the current funding model seems to reward increased number of degrees, but it doesn’t have an element in there that insures the qualities of the degrees.”

Kich also said he believes the model doesn’t take non-traditional students, who often take longer to earn a degree, into account.  

“At schools where you have students that are coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, they tend to be working students and they tend to take longer to graduate,” Kich said.  “If you look at graduation rates for open admission schools, there’s a low graduation efficiency for students in four years, but if you look at six years, [graduation rates] tend to increase quite a bit. If you add a few more years to that, these rates increase even more. I think that is another thing the model doesn’t take into account.”

Both Kich and Yantek said they hope Kasich won’t shy away from addressing the issues with the new funding formula in Monday night’s speech.

“What I hope to hear him say is that he’s going to start redirecting funds to higher education to make up for some of the cuts that have been instituted,” Yantek said.  “I am not going to hear a lot that I personally like from Gov. Kasich’s State of the State address.  He’s not going to come out with restoring funding to higher education, which means students are going to continue to pay higher tuition every year — even though students are [already] paying well above the national rate [and] are the fourth lowest state in terms of support.”

Kasich’s speech can be viewed via live feed on the Ohio News Network at 7 p.m. Monday night. Follow and TV2 for continued updates from the speech.

Contact Arielle Campanalie at [email protected].