Kent campuses react to new 10-year plan

Kent State’s regional campuses are weighing in on what their roles in the new University System may be, not knowing for sure until Gov. Ted Strickland and Chancellor Eric Fingerhut reveal final plans in March 2008.

The 10-year plan, which will unite public colleges, universities and career centers, aims to boost the schools’ abilities to compete for research funding, thrive in global markets and serve as an economic engine for the state. Administrators in Kent State’s regional campus system, the largest in Ohio, are considering upcoming changes but see the plan as mainly positive.

Patricia Book, vice president for regional development, said she’s pleased with the state’s new leadership and its commitment to higher education.

“This is sort of unprecedented that the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and the gubernatorial leadership achieved consensus that higher education was critical to the future of Ohio,” Book said. “And they were able to figure out a way to provide additional resources to higher education and hold tuition flat for two years.”

There are no concrete details yet about how the plan will change higher education in Ohio. The new University System puts higher education as a priority on the state’s agenda, but the schools will only see real benefits of this program when there is a specific plan in place.

“The devil is always in the details, but we don’t even know the details,” Book said.

She said she sees the University System as a change in mindset, not structure.

“They’re not changing the institutions. They’re not changing their governance structure,” she said. “But what they’re telling us is they’d like us to think more like a system.”

The plan, Book said, will present more opportunities for non-traditional students, who make up a good portion of the regional campus population, to attend college.

Book noted Fingerhut’s commitment to accessing public higher education, including community colleges and regional campuses. She said regional campuses already offer lower tuition than the Kent campus, making them more affordable to more people. This is especially important for adult learners who often have families and full-time jobs.

Although Book embraces the proposed plan, Shirley Barton, executive dean for regional campuses, is more skeptical.

“We all have a lot of questions after hearing the chancellor, and I think everybody’s just eager to see that plan and how we can react to that plan,” she said. “So right now it’s kind of a waiting game.”

Barton acknowledged that the plan will be a shift in mindset but noted the need for a practical transition.

“The big question is ‘how do we transition to a different paradigm in an effective way that we can afford,'” she said, adding that there is discussion right now about how to make associate degrees more affordable. Also, regional campuses have been increasing the number of baccalaureate degrees they offer.

Robert Sines, associate dean of the Trumbull campus, said he cannot say what’s in store for his campus because of lack of available information.

“You hear all kinds of rumors, but you can’t base your life on rumors,” he said.

However, Book reiterated her confidence in Ohio’s higher education leadership and said, no matter what, the regional campuses will embrace and work through any change.

“I don’t see the regional campuses as sort of passively reacting,” she said. “What I see them as is engaged, and excited in some ways, to respond to barriers in their communities.”

Contact public affairs reporters Imani Salahuddin at [email protected] and Morgan Day at [email protected] Public affairs reporters Greta Mittereder and Rob Decker contributed to this story.