Our View: A regional dilemma

Ohio represents a paradox in terms of higher education: Despite boasting more than 100 higher education institutions, the state ranks among the bottom half in the number of young adults who have two- or four-year degrees.

Thirty-three percent of Ohioans ages 25 to 34 have a higher education degree, according to the Lumina Foundation for Education. That’s lower than the United States’ 39 percent average behind 27 other states’ attainment levels.

But Kent State, in connection with the Board of Regents’ University System of Ohio, is finding ways to bridge that gap. President Lester Lefton recently announced one of those plans- granting regional campuses greater autonomy to approve more four-year degree offerings.

As the system works now, degree programs must move through a complicated, lengthy process involving faculty at the Kent campus. The new plan proposes streamlining the process to involve only regional campus faculty during the initial steps.

That’s the good news. More bachelor’s degrees at regional campuses can pump life into the feeble economy by providing non-traditional or place-bound students a cheaper path to a degree – a degree that’s often catered to the region’s needs.

Not all students want to or can afford to go away to a four-year university. Likewise, not all students want to go to community colleges. That’s where Kent State’s seven regional campuses come into the picture.

Plus, strengthening the number and breadth of regional campus programs wards off any potential threats posed by the university system’s plan to add a community college in the Mahoning Valley. We only support the university system to a point: Kent State’s long-term viability must be factored into the equation.

The bad news is the second half of the proposed plan, which calls for a similar hands-off approach from the Kent campus in determining regional campus faculty promotion and tenure.

And the regional campus faculty seems to agree. During a town hall meeting at the Stark campus Friday, faculty questioned the validity of the promotion and tenure process if limited to regional campus faculty only. They fear a “second-class appointment,” in light of some departments only having one faculty member.

Granting the regional campuses more of a voice is long overdue. After all, Provost Robert Frank called them distinct, almost separate college-like institutions that serve each community at Friday’s town hall meeting.

But severing important ties to the Kent campus – i.e., the promotion and tenure process – won’t necessarily improve any part of the university. Streamline the degree approval process at regional campuses, but leave the faculty part of the equation a joint venture.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board whose members are listed to the left.