Lawmakers and Lefton agree on tuition cap removal for budget cut deficit

Kent State University President Lester Lefton with Undergraduate Student Government’s Executive Director Justin Pierce after a luncheon at the Statehouse atrium in Columbus. Photo by Dawn Einsel.

Anna Staver

Both lawmakers and university presidents said they agreed tuition at Ohio’s public colleges and universities is likely to rise this fall.

“The state doesn’t have any money, so we’re basically competing with K-12 education, we’re competing with healthcare, we’re competing with people with disabilities,” said Bruce Johnson, Inter-University Council president, at a luncheon between legislators and higher education personnel.

Bruce Johnson audio clip #1

Speaking on the cost of tuition.

The luncheon was at the Statehouse atrium in Columbus Wednesday.

Lefton said the competition for an increasingly limited amount of resources has left him assuming there will be cuts to the State Share of Instruction. Gov. John Kasich will present his state budget to congress March 15.

Both Lefton and Johnson support the removal of a tuition increase cap, currently set at 3.5 percent, from the next budget. Lefton said that removing the caps would allow Kent State to have the flexibility to set tuition and fee rates. This would allow him to close any shortfalls in the university budget left by potentially steep cuts in state funds.

Johnson said he agreed.

“In general we believe trustees on state university campuses are in the best position to set tuition,” Johnson said. “We believe they are in a better position than people in Columbus in terms of understanding the trade off between cost, price and quality.”

Bruce Johnson audio clip #2

Speaking on the state budget.

Justin Pierce, USG’s executive director, said he wasn’t worried about removing the tuition caps from the next budget. Pierce traveled with Lefton to Columbus and attended the luncheon and Lefton’s private meetings with Kent State’s legislators.

“What president Lefton wants is just more flexibility,” Pierce said. “If the budget is cut, then tuition needs to move so we don’t have to shut down and close things.” 

Lefton said Monday that he would use an increase in tuition as a last resort.

“I’d far prefer that they would increase our funding, and I would decrease tuition,” Lefton said.

The luncheon, held by the Inter-University Council of Ohio, takes place annually and brings state legislators together with Ohio’s public university presidents and representatives. Lefton said he met with the legislators that represent Kent State’s campuses prior to the luncheon.

Democrat Kathleen Clyde, one of the legislators, is the state representative for the district that holds the Kent campus. She said she is looking forward to working with President Lefton as more of Kasich’s budget proposals are revealed. Clyde said she has no opinion yet on tuition caps but that her caucus is looking into all options.

Clyde sits on the finance committee and the higher education sub-committee. She said although she is in the minority party, she thinks her committee appointments will allow her to play a large roll in the budget process.

“I think these are very challenging budget times, so funding for all types of state programs is going to be an issue and prioritizing one program over another,” Clyde said. “I think we should work hard to prioritize higher education.”

Contact Anna Staver at [email protected].