University System plan due out Monday

Jackie Valley

Long-awaited report aims to boost number of Ohio’s college grads

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut will unveil his blueprint for higher education Monday – capping an end to months of speculation.

The report aims to increase the number of people in Ohio with higher education degrees, and in turn, help Ohio’s economy.

Michael Chaney, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents, said the chancellor’s 10-year strategic plan for the University System of Ohio is being kept tightly under wraps until Monday morning. In it, three actions linked to improving the state’s educational attainment will be addressed:

• graduating more students

• keeping graduates in Ohio

• attracting more talent to Ohio

Producing more graduates and then keeping them in the state is key to the plan and vital to the state’s economic turnaround, Chaney said.

“It’s something we think we need to take on,” he said. “We can graduate as many people as we want, but if we graduate them and they leave the state, that does us absolutely nothing.”

Financing the Plan

Gov. Ted Strickland, who appointed Fingerhut to his post as chancellor last year, has consistently said Ohio needs to add 230,000 students to its public higher education system by 2017.

Because the state faces smaller high school graduating class sizes the next few years, Chaney said the plan will emphasize reaching older potential students.

A draft of the plan’s accountability measures calls for 351,347 total enrollees age 25 and older by 2017 – a more than 180,000 increase from those currently enrolled.

Charlene Reed, secretary to the Board of Trustees, said one concern is whether the state can increase spending to make the plan a reality, given that many of the implementations will need state funding. She said it would cost $400 million for Ohio to bridge the gap to fund higher education at the national average.

For example, Reed said because state funding is based on enrollment, the assumption is that there must be big increases in funding to accommodate the enrollment growth.

“One thing they’ve stressed is it’s a 10-year plan, so how much they can do in the strategic plan will depend on the resources,” she said.

Also dependent on state funding, Reed said, is a proposal Kent State submitted to Fingerhut to begin a fund matching program similar to the Florida model, in which state legislatures match certain funds raised by universities.

“(Fingerhut) hinted at working with the legislature to come up with a state model in Ohio to fund match,” she said.

Kent State-oriented Initiatives

Fingerhut shed light on several Northeast Ohio-related parts of the plan last week while speaking at the Akron Roundtable, including adding Cleveland State to the NEOUCOM consortium and the restructuring of its board.

NEOUCOM’s board currently consists of the three presidents of each partner institution – Kent State, Youngstown State and the University of Akron – and two other appointees from each school.

“This board structure has not served the school well, as each member represents their own school, not the interests of NEOUCOM as a whole,” Fingerhut said at the Akron Roundtable.

Reed said there were 12 proposals for taking over NEOUCOM during the course of a work group for the Northeast Ohio Universities Collaboration and Innovation Study Commission, including one in which Kent State lobbied for the absorption of the medical school.

“I think this year has been a good illustration that this board hasn’t been working,” she said.

Fingerhut’s recommendations in Akron did not, however, include moving NEOUCOM to Cleveland – a rumor Chaney said Fingerhut never mentioned – nor did they still address a merger between Cleveland State and the University of Akron.

Chaney said reaction to the chancellor’s comments concerning NEOUCOM was “pretty positive, but it was positive with the caveat that the chancellor push the schools in the region to create centers of excellence.”

In addition, Reed said initial fears that universities would be stripped of their regional campuses have been erased. Even so, the plan for regional campuses is still a work in progress.

“We expect to figure it out campus by campus because each one has a lot of different characteristics,” she said.

After the Plan’s Debut

Once the plan is released, Reed said Fingerhut has asked the boards of trustees from each institution to determine how they will contribute to the goals.

Chaney said a dashboard measuring that state’s progress toward its goals will be a permanent fixture on the Web site for the University System of Ohio.

Still, Chaney said Fingerhut recognizes that as a 10-year plan, changes may need to be made down the line if certain strategies do not work or new ideas should be added.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].