Budget better than expected for higher education

Anna Staver

Tuition increase caps will remain at current levels, but total higher education funding fell in Gov. John Kasich’s budget proposal released Tuesday.

The total budget is about $55.5 billion, and higher education comprises $4.5 billion, or about 8 percent. The proposal covers the next two fiscal years from July 2011 to July 2013.

State Share of Instruction funding, the main way Kent State receives money, will increase by 2.7 percent for the next fiscal year, and a little less than one percent for FY 2013.

“There is $62 million increase in state aid to higher education over the next two years,” said Timothy Keen, director of Ohio’s Office of Budget and Management, during the budget town hall meeting.

But federal stimulus dollars will no longer be coming and the total amount of money for higher education will decrease 11.4 percent in FY 2012 and 8 percent in FY 2013.

“If you look at the way the state treated the stimulus, they are counting that in Ohio as part of the state share of instruction, and of course that is being zeroed out,” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, economics professor at Wright State University, in a phone interview.

During the town hall meeting, Kasich said previous budgets relied too heavily on “one-time revenues” like stimulus dollars. He said this funding created a structural imbalance in the budget because it hid the true effects of the recession.

“First year of the budget is the toughest; following year it gets a little bit easier,” Kasich said.

Fichtenbaum said given the rumors of a potential 20 percent budget cut, the numbers are not as bad as feared.

“Wright State is pretty much in the same boat as Kent State,” Fichtenbaum said. “We’ve figured out if enrollment goes up by two percent, then we will basically break even.” He said this would only happen if Wright State imposes the maximum 3.5 percent tuition increase.

At the Faculty Senate meeting Monday, President Lester Lefton said an increased number of students have applied to Kent State for next year.

“Just this morning (Monday) I saw the weekly enrollment report which showed applications to Kent State for next year are up 19 percent,” Lefton said. “Admits are up over nine percent from the same time last year.”

A positive for current Kent State’s students is the continuance of former Gov. Ted Strickland’s cap on tuition increases for public universities. The most tuition can increase for Fall 2011 and 2012 is 3.5 percent.

And a plus for Kent State’s administration is the removal of a construction regulation, known as multiple prime contracting.

“From an institutional perspective, this will have a positive impact to our bottom line by reducing costs associated with every major construction project,” Lefton said in an e-mail statement. “The less we spend, the more we get to invest in our students’ education.”

At the Faculty Senate meeting, Lefton said this could save Kent State $30 to $40 million on a bond proposal for campus-wide renovations that fell through last semester.

Ohio College Opportunity Grants and Ohio War Orphans Scholarships are being reduced by 5 percent. OCOG scholarships are awarded to students who show financial need and are similar to Federal Pell Grants, said Rob Evans, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents.

“All of Ohio needs to understand this (budget),” Kasich said. He said he hopes that once they understand it, they will support it.

But the budget must win approval from Ohio’s legislature first.

Contact Anna Staver at [email protected]