State of Ohio discusses chartering public colleges

Julie Sickel

Ohio’s public universities could soon have the chance to trade funding for freedom.

New terms in the state budget, which was signed into law Thursday by Gov. John Kasich, direct Chancellor Jim Petro of the Ohio Board of Regents to create a system for public colleges and universities to be chartered, or made semi-private.

“We’re not calling them charter universities; we’re calling them enterprise universities,” Petro said Tuesday. “The reason we’re doing that is to reidentify what their change would mean.”

Petro explained converting public universities would then allow those institutions to function with “business-like activity” in order to generate outside revenue with limited state involvement.

“The enterprise would have a contract with the state,” he said. “They would have to reach an agreement that would be like a charter or a constitution that would give them certain freedom that they currently don’t have because of state statute.”

Kent State President Lester Lefton couldn’t be reached this week on the possibility, but in March he told the Akron Beacon Journal he supported the notion for “universities that meet certain criteria or make progress toward accountability, accessibility and financial stability.”

While switching to a charter system could give universities more freedom, Petro said he expects the state would continue to have authority over tuition increases.

“I think there would probably be some limit on tuition,” Petro said. “I don’t think it would be full freedom to increase tuition to whatever they wanted.”

Universities could have a greater opportunity to develop in the field of research, an area, Petro explained, which already allows universities to generate outside revenue.

“It could be a variety of things that could make them have a business component beyond education,” he said.

In 2005, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and The College of William & Mary all converted to charter universities under Virginia law — a switch Petro said gave them more freedom from state oversight in exchange for less money.

Petro said he envisions the change will benefit students because the state could offer more scholarships.

“We need to have more opportunities where need-based scholarships, merit-based scholarships are more readily available at the state level,” he said.

Petro said he doesn’t expect his current vision for the charter system to be set in stone when he presents his plan next month.

“I’m not sure where we’ll come down on this,” he said. “I have until the middle of August under the terms in the budget to reach some conclusion and include those in a report which I will issue by that time.”

Contact Summer Kent Stater / KentWired editor Julie Sickel at [email protected].