Strickland focuses on need to make education more flexible

Jackie Valley

COLUMBUS – Gov. Ted Strickland announced two parts of the forthcoming University System of Ohio during his State of the State address yesterday, which targeted education for the second straight year.

“Education is the central issue I face as governor,” he said. “I am determined to bring real change and real results.

“But I am also determined to find the best answers.”

To add 230,000 students to Ohio higher education within 10 years, Strickland said the University System will guarantee access to an associate and bachelor’s degree within 30 miles of every Ohio citizen.

Strickland appointed Eric Fingerhut as the chancellor for higher education last year, charging him to create a 10-year master plan to create the University System of Ohio among all public institutions. Fingerhut will deliver his master plan to the Ohio General Assembly March 31.

Strickland said the state must build a system of higher education that is flexible to the needs of all potential students.

“Many Ohioans who are interested in furthering their education are not able to spend the traditional four years on one of Ohio’s main university campuses,” he said. “Many are working full-time or caring for a family, or both.”

For example, Strickland said two institutions in southwest Ohio – Sinclair Community College and Miami University – are already working together to offer associate and bachelor’s degrees at Miami University’s regional campus in Middletown.

The effect, he said, will be to flip Ohio’s higher education affordability – making Ohio one of the top 10 least expensive states for higher education, rather than its current status as one of the top ten most expensive states.

Fingerhut said this part of the plan opens access to higher education to all students, even recently graduated high school students wishing to spend a year or two at a regional campus to cut costs.

“Many people will use it for different reasons,” he said. “Anything that broadens the range of options and lowers the cost is great for the state.”

Even so, David Creamer, senior vice president for administration, said he worries the University System’s focus on accessibility to higher education via regional and community college campuses may narrow options for students qualified to attend four-year universities but without the means to afford it.

“The role of public higher education is always to make sure the financial barrier is reduced to the greatest extent possible,” he said. “You don’t want to follow a path that is simply the only thing you can afford.”

In his second peak at the University System, Strickland announced plans to build upon the existing Post Secondary Enrollment Options for high school students – effective for the upcoming school year.

The initiative he called “Seniors to Sophomores” gives twelfth-graders the option of spending their senior year of high school attending a University System institution without paying tuition.

“Students will receive their high school diploma and one full year of college credits at the same time,” he said. “The credits will transfer in full to public institutions as well as many private colleges.”

Creamer said the success of this initiative will be based on finding a way to ensure money goes toward the university involved while not reducing state appropriations for secondary schools sending students to participate in the PSEO program.

Otherwise, he said it “defeats the purpose” because it pits universities and secondary schools against each other, instead of collaborating.

In addition, Strickland turned to primary and secondary education, calling for the creation of director of the Department of Education appointed by the governor.

Along the same vein as Fingerhut’s appointment as Chancellor last year, Strickland said the director would have oversight over all Department of Education efforts. The current State Board of Education would continue to operate in an advisory capacity.

“The most important duty of the state should not be overseen by an unwieldy department with splintered accountability,” he said. “This change in organizational structure will ensure, like higher education, that there is a direct line of responsibility and accountability in K through 12 education.”

Strickland said he will present a plan for Ohio’s K-12 schools next year.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].