The future of Ohio’s higher education

Jackie Valley

Chancellor unveils his 10-year plan for higher education

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut revealed his 10-year map for Ohio higher education yesterday, calling for universities to declare their strongest programs by the end of the year.

The creation of “centers of excellence” among Ohio’s 13 public universities was just one of many strategies outlined in the chancellor’s long-awaited plan to overhaul higher education in the state.

Greater access at cheaper costs to quality programs within the University System of Ohio guide the plan’s mission — increasing the number of Ohioans with higher education degrees.

Last year, Gov. Ted Strickland announced his goal to enroll 230,000 more students in Ohio’s public higher education system by 2017.

To do so, strategies outlined in the plan aim to graduate more people, keep them in Ohio post-graduation and attract more talent to Ohio.

Fingerhut said more people graduating with degrees and staying in Ohio translates to a brighter economic future for the state. Education levels indicate how much money individuals will earn during their lifetime, he said.

“Our future prosperity depends on the overall prosperity of its citizens,” he said.

Despite reservations from the higher education community, Fingerhut said it is time for higher education to share the responsibility of keeping graduates in the state.

“We think we do impact it,” he said. “We think we can influence it. We are ready to be held accountable.”

The plan calls for high-quality programs and collaboration among the universities with distinct missions to help spur the economic benefits.

Once universities identify their “centers of excellence,” they must establish goals to ensure their maintenance as nationally recognized programs. Fingerhut will base future funding decisions and recommendations off the approved priorities of each university.

Provost Robert Frank said he anticipates Kent State will identify liquid crystals, fashion, communication sciences and education as a few of its “centers of excellence.”

By Oct. 15, universities must also submit “good faith” estimates for enrollment, endowment and private fundraising growth, tuition charges and out-of-pocket costs for students of different income brackets for the next biennium.

Fingerhut said by following this approach, “we can satisfy the General Assembly that the goal of affordability is being met.”

Other recommendations within the plan to curb costs of attendance include:

• Make the out-of-pocket cost of attendance for a student living in Ohio among the lowest in the nation by 2017.

• Offer associate and bachelor’s degrees needed for economic advancement available within 30 miles of every Ohioan.

• Create a community college education for the Mahoning Valley by collaborations among Kent State, Youngstown State, Jefferson Community College and adult workforce centers.

• Allow every high school graduate in Ohio the option of being “dual admitted” to a community college and a public university if they meet the academic standards of each school.

For Northeast Ohio, the plan recommends placing the leadership of NEOUCOM under one independent board and adding Cleveland State to its consortium. Fingerhut will also meet annually with the trustees of the region’s four public universities — Kent State, Youngstown State, Cleveland State and the University of Akron — to review progress made toward improving quality, increasing collaboration and mission differentiation, and decreasing competition.

The plan also includes an incentive for universities to increase private fundraising — additional state support.

Frank said the possibility of a fund-matching system for private fundraising stands to increase donations since donors like to see their money having a greater impact.

“Something like that would be an incredibly powerful tool,” he said.

The availability of such funds, however, remains hinged on the outcome of the next biennial budget.

Charlene Reed, secretary to the Board of Trustees, said Fingerhut will immediately begin a Funding Consultation Committee to recommend a new funding formula to the governor and General Assembly that is aligned with the goals of the master plan.

Frank said more clarity about the plan will emerge in the coming weeks and months as the chancellor meets with university presidents and the General Assembly to begin the task of funding the recommended implementations.

“It’s a broad-sweeping plan and it’s going to take a while for all of us to digest what it means,” he said.

Even so, Fingerhut said there is not a “big bang” recommendation that will make the plan a success but rather one where progress can be measured along the way.

The plan includes 20 accountability measures in the areas of access, quality, affordability and efficiency, and economic leadership. A dashboard measuring Ohio’s progress in higher education related to other states and countries will be available on the Web site for the University System of Ohio.

To view a the complete master plan, visit

To see the plan as it appeared on today’s front page, click here.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].