“Moment of Change”

Jackie Valley

Eric Fingerhut, Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, discusses “Issues Facing Higher Education in Ohio” yesterday in the Student Center. Photo by Leslie L. Cusano|Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut told the Kent State community yesterday that Gov. Ted Strickland’s message to higher education is clear: “It is time to stop competing and start collaborating.”

Speaking to a mixture of about 200 students, administrators and mostly faculty during his speech sponsored by Library and Media Services, Fingerhut said for too long, Ohio’s public colleges and universities have been forced to act as separate entities.

As a result, Fingerhut said Strickland appointed him as chancellor in March and assigned him the responsibility to “build a system that will make Ohio a 21st century leader in higher education” for public institutions that will provide better access for all students and also help improve the state’s economy.

“We know if we do our job right, we will be the agents of Ohio’s economic turnaround,” he said.

Currently, Fingerhut said 73 percent of college students in Ohio attend public universities, compared to 80 percent nationwide.

“The future of this state is driven by the institutions in our public system,” he said.

So far, Fingerhut said the state has taken steps in the right direction with this year’s budget by giving more funds to public institutions in the wake of the two-year tuition freeze, in addition to the $50 million Choose Ohio First scholarship program and $150 million effort for the Ohio Research Scholars program to promote areas of economic growth in the state.

Even so, Fingerhut said the budget is only a portion of the solution.

“The budget news is exciting, but we all know the transformations we see in Ohio higher education cannot be accomplished through one, two-year budget bill,” he said.

Fingerhut said he will submit his master plan for higher education to the Ohio General Assembly March 31. The 10-year master plan will outline a vision for the university system of Ohio and identify strategies to measure and reach the goals.

Fingerhut said there has been much discussion about what the university system will mean to Ohio’s public universities and colleges, including Kent State.

“It does not mean we will simply copy the system from another state,” he said, but adding there is much to learn from other states.

Instead, Fingerhut said the university system will build on the traditions and successes of each public institution.

“In the global economy, no single college or university can drive our state’s economy,” he said. “Collectively, however, the university system of Ohio can and will establish our state as one of the best places in the world to build or grow a business, conduct cutting-edge research and expand the reach of knowledge in the social and science arts.”

To achieve this goal, Fingerhut said it is necessary for Ohio to attract talented students both in- and outside of the state.

“This campus draws students from across Ohio and beyond,” he said. “In the coming year, we will be asking you to expand your reach even further to become a powerful magnet for students.”

In addition, Fingerhut said one of the main priorities of the university system is to “extend the reach of a community college education to every Ohioan.”

In order to make higher education available to all, Fingerhut said he is asking universities to examine regional campuses and find ways to increase access and provide more associate and bachelor degree programs.

Fingerhut said doing so will involve collaboration among public universities, regional campuses and community colleges – not the elimination of any institution.

“We will not reduce the higher education options in any community or campus,” he said. “Instead, we must expand the options on every community college or campus. We do not want to plan for you but with you.”

For example, Fingerhut said Kent State may be able to collaborate with community colleges in counties in need of more higher education options.

“We are not asking you to pull down the Kent State flag and retreat from Trumbull county,” he said. “We are asking you to partner with other community colleges.”

Fingerhut also said he thinks it is important for each public institution to evaluate its strengths when discussing creating centers of excellence as part of the university system.

President Lester Lefton said Kent State’s fashion, liquid crystals and journalism programs are examples of the university’s strengths and we have to determine how they fit into the overall goals of the university system.

Ultimately, Fingerhut said he hopes the changes to Ohio’s higher education system will shine a positive spotlight on the state.

“What I want to be known as is the state with the greatest system of higher education in the world,” he said.

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].