Economy won’t halt University System

Jackie Valley

Eric Fingerhut, Chancellor of higher education in Ohio, speaks with a panel of Kent State students last night in Eastway Center. Sam Twarek | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut begins part two of his tour through Kent State today, after attending a pizza party with students yesterday and spending the night in Centennial C.

Since the March debut of his master plan for higher education, Fingerhut has been criss-crossing the state to visit its public colleges and universities.

His goal? To help implement the University System of Ohio. In doing so, Fingerhut said he hopes to increase the amount of Ohioans with a higher education while keeping those students employed in the state post-graduation.

“One of the things that is the most frustrating part of my job is to go from a meeting with students who say, ‘I can’t find a job,’ to a meeting with employers who say, ‘I can’t find workers,'” he said. “It happens all the time.

“You can either jump out a window or you can fix it. We’re going to fix it.”

The 10-Year Plan:

The University System of Ohio is a network linking the state’s 14 public universities, 24 branch campuses, 23 community colleges and adult workforce education centers. Here are a few goals for the system under Chancellor Eric

Fingerhut’s 10-year

master plan:

&bull Enroll 230,000 more students in Ohio’s public higher education system by 2017.

&bull Keep graduates in Ohio, especially in fields driving the state’s future


&bull Fulfill a 30-mile promise by

making higher education available to all Ohio citizens within 30 miles of their residences.

&bull Create a community college in the Mahoning Valley.

&bull Increase collaboration among

institutions to keep costs low.

&bull Increase the amount of students with internships and co-ops in the state.

Before visiting parts of campus yesterday, Fingerhut met with members of the media to discuss the status of the university system, especially with the fragile economy.

Fingerhut said the university system is constantly trying to balance what he calls the “twin goals” of maintaining an affordable and high-quality


Q: In light of the state’s economy, what is the prognosis of the system’s higher education goals?

The economic downturn, I think, is an opportunity for us in higher education to demonstrate something that we believe is true, and that is that higher education really is the driver of a future economic prosperity. We live in a knowledge-based economy. Every business in this state has to compete on a global basis, which means they need workers who can work with and compete with workers all over the globe.

…The goals might have to be accelerated. We’re certainly not going to scale back our strategic plan under no circumstances. The question we’re asking ourselves is, “Can we go faster? Can we do more than we originally thought we had to do?”

So far, Fingerhut said the system’s results have been positive. Ohio moved up to the 36th slot from 38th in the country last year regarding the education of the state’s workforce.

Community colleges and regional campuses will absorb most of the enrollment increases resulting from the new system and goals, he said.

Q: Will a new community college in the Mahoning Valley compete with Kent State’s Trumbull campus?

No … We’re going to share facilities with Kent State’s regional campuses, with the adult workforce centers, with Youngstown State, with Jefferson Community College and all the colleges along there.

As we create this community college in the Mahoning Valley, we will be adding programs that don’t exist and that are much more efficiently delivered at a community college level than at a regional campus.

Q: When Fingerhut unveiled his plan in March, he asked universities to declare their “centers of excellence” – or strongest programs – by the end of the year. What’s the next step?

Schools are all considering right now what their centers of excellence will be. They have a deadline of finalizing it by June 30 of next year. This is a big step, so we wanted to give people enough time to really think it through and process it.

Q: How will funding be decided with the centers of excellence?

Certainly, the plan is that any funds we have to invest in excellence – programs like Choose Ohio First, Ohio Research Scholars and others – we would then align with the centers of excellence. We would expect that the scholars that Kent State wants would be in the areas that they’ve invested in as a center of excellence.

Q: How does it feel to be staying on a college campus overnight?

I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been to Kent State many times as chancellor, but I really value these opportunities to spend some in-depth time to meet with faculty and really get a feel of the campus, the rhythm of the campus. Plus, I spend a lot of time with administrators and presidents and deans – I want to get with the students.

Q: What do you think sets Kent State apart from other colleges and universities in the state?

I value the traditions here, and I think that the focus on excellence really embodies what we’re trying to do in the University System of Ohio. Our view is we can’t all do everything, but whatever it is we do, we really have to do the best at it.

Contact public affairs reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].