Budget cuts on higher education could affect cost of tuition

Anna Staver

Tuition caps in Ohio may disappear in the next state budget due to lobbying efforts from Kent State and the Inter-University Council of Ohio.

President Lester Lefton said he plans to ask for the caps, currently set at 3.5 percent, to be removed as part of what he calls “regulatory relief” when he meets with legislators in Columbus tomorrow to discuss the future of higher education funding.

Tuition caps are a percentage dictated by the state every year that limits how much tuition can be raised at public universities from year to year.

Lefton said he will ask Kent State’s 12 legislators to keep the university’s state share of instruction funding at current levels. However, he said he thinks in reality Kent State would see a cut.

“If the budget is seriously slashed, we need the flexibility to set tuition and fee rates to appropriately run the institution,” Lefton said. “I’d far prefer that they would increase our funding, and I would decrease tuition.”

A steep budget cut combined with a cap on tuition could seriously hamper the university’s ability to run its day-to-day operations, Lefton said. And, he said, all public universities in Ohio need the ability to close a potentially large budget gap.

Lefton and 12 other public university presidents from across Ohio will attend a statehouse luncheon followed by smaller meetings with lawmakers as part of an annual lobbying effort put together by the Inter-University Council.

Rising tuition and fading tuition caps in Ohio are representative of a larger national trend, Lefton said. California students saw a 32 percent increase in tuition for fall of 2010, according to a Washington Post article.

At a press conference in January, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said keeping the tuition caps in his budget last year might have been a mistake. Christie said he is leaning towards removing them from his upcoming budget.

“Now, the country, through the people they elected, are saying ‘why should I pay for higher education? Let the people who benefit pay for it,’” Lefton said.

The national trend to cut university budgets marks a change in philosophy that Lefton said he disagrees with.

Lefton plans to focus on how higher education creates jobs and revenue for the state, and he said he hopes this message will be well-received by the new Republican leadership.

Lefton said for every dollar invested in higher education, Ohio will earn $1.80 in return, and Kent State has an economic impact of $1.9 billion every year. He also said that Kent State provides an educated workforce to fill job openings throughout Ohio.

Lefton said he hopes that Kent State will get a budget cut that can be absorbed primarily through enrollment increases and a modest tuition increase.

“If the state chooses to cut funding, it is not unexpected that tuition will rise,” Lefton said. “The state is making a choice, and around the country states are choosing to let tuition rise.”

Contact Anna Staver at [email protected].