Ohio’s ready for a change

Eric Fingerhut wants to change Ohio’s economy. That means more jobs – jobs that pay better and are more challenging. The kind of jobs that encourage people to come to or stay in Ohio.

Those kinds of jobs typically require higher education, which is where Fingerhut steps in. As the recently appointed chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Fingerhut is in charge of education in the state. In March, Fingerhut will announce a 10-year plan with definite goals for all of Ohio’s public higher education institutions, as well as strategies to achieve them and metrics to measure success against.

One of these strategies is the much-talked-about university system, which will unite Ohio’s 13 universities and 23 community colleges into one cohesive collaboration.

For a long time, Ohio’s universities have operated as completely separate entities: Collaborations and partnerships have been cause for publicity, and transferring from one school to another was a nightmare for students trying to sift through basic requirements. Fingerhut said he sees the university system as a way to expand and improve education in the state, eliminating unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy between colleges, but each university will maintain its own identity and governing body. The state will not absorb the schools for its own purpose.

Each university will be encouraged to determine its strengths and develop those programs. The overall idea is that Ohio students will be able to find the school that best suits them in terms of programs offered, location, price and atmosphere. Ohio will be a buffet of higher education – whatever you are in the mood for, you will be able to find.

This could become a problem for some schools if too many determine they have the same strengths. There can’t be four compartments of cherry Jell-O in the buffet cart. Whose job will it be to decide what school gets which programs?

But Fingerhut has said the last thing he wants to do is restrict universities: His goal is to expand higher education, not constrain it. He wants to further the reach of community colleges and regional campuses to ensure that everyone in the state is near affordable education.

This could be a plus for Ohio’s students, as long as the schools are willing to make some concessions and work with the chancellor and Gov. Ted Strickland. We can’t all have it all. Some programs may fade from Kent State while they flourish at the University of Akron. This system is about collaboration, not competition; it’s about what’s best for Ohio and its students, not its individual universities.

As long as the system comes through for students, it’s a good idea. For too long, education in Ohio has been pushed by profit. Tuition costs have soared as the system plummeted. High school seniors often sought out-of-state education, and many who stayed in Ohio for college quickly relocated after graduation.

This plan could draw more talent from out of state and keep in-state talent here. Businesses will be more likely to open in Ohio, creating more jobs. People will want to stay after education, and those who always wanted to stay won’t be forced out because of a lack of jobs. It will make a Kent State diploma more valuable to employers.

Face the facts: Ohio’s economy is scraping rock bottom, and something needs to be done to pull our state out of despair. Fingerhut’s plan could unite the public higher education system, strengthening it and improving its reputation across the nation.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.