Collaborative colleges

Jackie Valley

Commission’s report is the first step in bringing Ohio universities together

President Lester Lefton described a study report that issued recommendations to the Ohio legislature about collaborations among Northeast Ohio universities a “first down but 30 to go.”

“It’s a good start, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “The recommendations are a series of tasks for the universities to evaluate whether we will save money.”

The Northeast Ohio Universities Collaboration and Innovation Study Commission released its report in early January after a year of evaluating ways the five universities could better serve the region academically and save money by working together.

House Bill 699 formed the NEO Study Commission in the final days of Ohio’s 126th General Assembly in 2006. It includes area business and political leaders in addition to the presidents of the five public universities: Kent State, the University of Akron, Youngstown State, Cleveland State and NEOUCOM.

The 60-page report lists 18 recommendations ranging from creating a common academic calendar to consolidating back office functions to save money.

However, it does not include any recommendation to merge Cleveland State and the University of Akron, or move the location of NEOUCOM like speculated in the fall.

Lefton said the report will not yield any immediate savings, nor will it have any immediate impact on students.

“If it was that easy, we would have done it a long time ago,” he said.

Instead, Lefton said that many of the recommendations call for further examination or the approval of the Ohio

legislature to be implemented.

“Many (of the recommendations) cost money,” he said. “They are not funded.”

Lefton said he thinks the legislature should fund many of the


Otherwise, implementing them has the potential to drive up tuition costs for students.

In a press release, Chancellor Eric Fingerhut said the NEO Study Commission’s report is an “important first step for University System of Ohio colleges and universities in the region.”

Fingerhut will deliver his 10-year master plan for higher education to Gov. Strickland and the Ohio General Assembly in March.

Lefton said he expects the back office recommendations to be the ones most likely to be implemented, such as using common campus IT applications and developing a shared data center.

David Creamer, senior vice president for administration, said several of the recommendations’ start-up costs will delay any initial savings.

“Many times you have to spend a block of money at the front-end to save money in the long-run,” he said.

Lefton said the “real challenge is in recommendation 15” – one needing legislative approval – because it stands to save Kent State millions of dollars by eliminating the requirement to use multiple prime contractors for construction projects.

Lefton said hiring multiple prime contractors takes longer for projects to be completed, increasing the cost.

“We estimate that for Kent State alone, it’s about $1 to $2 million to be saved each year,” he said.

The report also recommends the universities collaborate to purchase health care benefits – an idea Lefton said poses obstacles because of union contracts for health care and the different levels of health care benefits offered at each university.

“We would save a couple of dollars if we all bought it together, but there would be some winners or losers,” he said, adding it would take 10 years to implement.

Lefton said consultants estimated the five universities would save 10 percent by purchasing the same health care benefits.

In the meantime, Lefton said Kent State will do its part to work on the commission’s recommendations.

“We will actively work at it in good faith, but some of them are very long-term, and some won’t get implemented,” he said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].

VIEW the commission report and the Chancellor’s statement about the report.