Our View: Paying the cost of higher education

DKS Editors

For the third year in a row, Gov. Ted Strickland focused on revamping Ohio’s education system Wednesday during his annual State of the State address.

This time, he spent the bulk of his 63-minute speech describing his plan for K-12 school reform, including lengthening the school year, eliminating the Ohio Graduation Test and shutting down school districts continuing to fail.

Strickland spent much less time discussing higher education, but that didn’t diminish his stance or priorities: He extended the tuition freeze at four-year universities for next year and at regional and community colleges through 2011.

For students, that’s great news, especially with a recession looming overhead. But for the university, that announcement likely sent a wave of panic through the hallways of the executive offices.

Strickland’s innovative and well-intentioned plans currently have one gaping green hole: money. As the state tries to swallow a $7.3 billion deficit, how will the governor be able to allot more money to public primary and higher education?

The problem is more complex for the state’s primary education system, given the current funding model involving property taxes has been ruled unconstitutional several times by the Ohio legislature. State education not only needs more direct funds but also an entirely new funding model.

In terms of higher education, President Lester Lefton has repeatedly said that for the tuition freeze to continue, the state must ante up more money directly to universities to cover the gap left by not increasing tuition each year.

If not, universities will slash their budgets to account for a smaller revenue stream. At this point, students will begin to feel the effects of the budget strain. Adjunct faculty will be laid off. Projects will be put on hold. Class sizes will likely increase.

It’s a double-edged sword: Revel in the joy of another tuition freeze or worry about the consequences impacting the quality of our education?

Luckily for us, we may not have to answer that question. Strickland is expected to release his proposal for the state budget Monday. In it, he’ll announce cuts to state agencies and operations – and we hope higher education won’t be among them.

The budget must provide a substantial increase in state funding to higher education to keep universities afloat. Otherwise, students will simply be paying the same amount of money for a subpar level of education.

Strickland told the media yesterday afternoon that state school funding will increase by $925 million in the new budget. Let’s hope that statement is as good as it sounds come Monday.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board