KSU isn’t buying into Enterprise University Plan yet

Daniel Moore

Ohio Chancellor Jim Petro has a plan for public schools in Ohio, and Kent State isn’t buying into it — yet. 

“As it’s currently structured, the current proposal would be a significant budget cut, and it would not be made up by the mandate relief,” President Lester Lefton said.

Benchmarks to earn International Enterprise University status

(7 of 9 required)

1. Unallocated net assets of 30% of total operating expenses

2. Five-year graduation rate of 75%

3. First- to Second-Year Retention Rate of 85%

4. Endowment of 30% of total operating expenses

5. Research Expenditures of $250,000,000 or more

6. STEM Degree Percentage of 20%

7. Affordability Measured as a Percentage of Consumer Price Index (CPI) – Bonus for

institutions who lower tuition

8. 20% of FTEs participating in intern/co-op programs

9. Direct Articulation Partnership w/ Community Colleges

Petro presented his Enterprise University Plan Aug. 11 to public university presidents and trustees in Columbus. His goal is to relieve Ohio’s public universities of burdensome and unnecessary state regulations while having them invest a portion of their state funding into a scholarship fund. 

“There’s no question that we would like to be efficient and as effective as possible,” Lefton said. “And deregulation, or removing some regulations that currently exist that are duplicative and unnecessary, would make us more efficient.”

A spokeswoman for Petro said the proposal has been in the drafting process since August.

According to Petro’s office, after the proposal is written, legislators can then sponsor or co-sponsor it; public debate can then begin among committees and, eventually, the House and Senate.  

“We recognize (elements of the plan) are likely to go through some significant change as it makes its way through the legislature, so we’re watching and waiting and seeing how it ultimately turns out before have a real formal opinion,” Lefton said.

Jacqueline Woods, chair of Board of Trustees, said the board has no official position because the proposal is at the beginning of its legislative road. Woods said there are elements of the plan she finds beneficial, such as the simplification of the mandate relief.

“It does give more freedom and regulatory relief for certain kinds of performance.” Woods said. “It says if the university does these six things, then you get this kind of relief.”

Woods also said there are parts of the proposal that need to be considered carefully. Another cut in state funding might ultimately put the university at a disadvantage, she said.

Phase one — Enterprise University Status

  • Allow the Board of Trustees to determine the length of term for the Board officers
  • Allow the board to go into executive session for meetings with specified internal auditors
  • Allow the board to go into executive session to discuss proprietary information
  • Allow the board to meet by videoconference/other technological means
  • Exempt university capital laws from state construction procurement requirements
  • Allow universities to mandate electronic paycheck deposit for all employees
  • Eliminate enrollment limits
  • Provide that universities can officially partner with other universities
  • Ability to set different tuition and fees for space and facility reasons
  • Allow universities to settle claims against the university up to $100,000 without attorney

    general’s approval.

“I think this is where most of the presidents are at the drawing boards with their (Chief Financial Officers) saying ‘OK, what do I get, what do I give up and how would I manage in that environment?’” Woods said during the board’s Sept. 14 meeting. “‘What credit do I get for the 13 percent (of state funding) that I’ve already given up?’”

The plan consists of two phases. In the first phase, the state loosens regulations on all 14 public universities, such as allowing their boards of trustees to go in executive session for more reasons and conduct some university business without the state’s approval. 

In the second phase, the university can earn even greater freedom from the state by meeting predetermined improvements in areas of graduation rate, retention and research expenditures. 

At the highest level of autonomy — the International Enterprise status — Kent State would be able to conduct most business without any approval from the Ohio Controlling Board. 

The plan states it won’t result in the privatization of higher education, and it won’t totally eliminate government oversight. 

“While the state would never consider severing ties with one of its public universities,” the proposal reads, “this new autonomy calls for less reliance on state dollars.”

Lefton said the plan wouldn’t make him into a CEO — he already is one. 

Phase two — International Enterprise University status

  • All mandate relief equal to enterprise universities
  • Eliminate requirement for universities to receive any approval from the controlling board
  • Provide waiver on debt related to student housing
  • Remove the requirement that the chancellor must approve issuances of obligation
  • Allow sale and purchase of university real property without approval of chancellor and the Ohio

    General Assembly.

  • Allow universities to settle claims against the university up to $300,000 without attorney

    general’s approval.

“18 percent of our budget comes from the state of Ohio,” Lefton said. “Four days out of five, we are a private university in the sense that we have the same responsibilities for fundraising, tuition and operations as does a private university, except for about 18 percent of our budget.”

Trustee Emilio Ferrara said the editorials he’s read regarding the proposal suggest people are treating it with skepticism. 

“It certainly hasn’t generated excitement,” Ferrara said. “I haven’t seen anything that people are jumping on board and saying this is a great proposal.”

Provost Robert Frank said he will let the legislature begin the debate. 

“It’s really a complex conversation, and it’s early,” Frank said. “Chancellor Petro has been doing his job on the proposal in a quick amount of time. There’s really not much you can say. Legislature is going to have to decide how to implement it.

I can’t say much except it’s a great discussion for us to be engaged in.”

Frank said other states, like Colorado and Virginia, have models similar to Petro’s Enterprise University Plan. The official plan cites both case studies, but he said Ohio will ultimately have to decide what’s best for Ohio.  

“Each state puts this together differently,” he said.

Dennis Eckart, a Kent State trustee and former U.S. Congressman, said an alternative idea gaining traction among larger schools is turning individual colleges within the university into “enterprise colleges.”


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“I’ve seen some state representatives and state senators are saying that would be easier to do,” Eckart said. “There are some places that, clearly, taking an entire university is more difficult because of the highs and lows and size, scope, scale and dollar amount.”

Lefton said he would be hesitant with that idea because if students change colleges, they might have to pay significantly more or less depending on the enterprise college of their choosing.  

“Were you to do that, you would find huge disparities in tuition and other kinds of benefits going between the colleges,” Lefton said. 

Woods said the board will stay familiar with the changes in the proposal because the process is complicated. 

“There are so many issues,” Woods said. “It’s going to be an interesting battle. We should give the chancellor credit for a really hard job.”

Contact Daniel Moore at [email protected].