Strickland proposes tuition freeze

Tim Magaw

Plan might increase higher education affordability

COLUMBUS — Gov. Ted Strickland proposed a freeze on next year’s tuition with only a 3 percent increase the following year as an exchange for a large increase in funding for Ohio’s public colleges and universities.

“Instead of a tuition increase of 9 percent — and that’s what we’ve averaged in Ohio since 1996 — there would be absolutely no tuition increase next year,” Strickland said.

David Creamer, senior vice president for administration, said everyone is pleased with the emphasis the governor has placed on higher education and education in general.

“I think there’s a good chance tuition will be frozen or kept at a modest increase in the next couple of years,” he said.

If there were a freeze in tuition, cuts within the university would be likely, Creamer said. Some of the cuts might include the upkeep of classrooms and the addition of new technology. However, he said making cuts within the faculty is a last resort.

Strickland said in order for universities and colleges to get their share of the funding increase, they must find ways to operate more efficiently.

Creamer said the debate about making universities operate more efficiently is not a new one, and it has been discussed for about 15 years. He said it’s difficult to make college more affordable without a loss in the quality.

“It’s not an either/or,” he said. “It’s about finding that right balance.”The funding increase and tuition freeze are part of the governor’s proposed budget. The budget must be passed by both the Ohio House and Senate and signed into law before it can take effect. Chief budget proposals are expected to be released today with more detailed plans to be released next week.

The first of two initiatives in Strickland’s budget explains how the state will increase higher education funding by 5 percent next year and 2 percent in 2009 in exchange for the tuition freeze.

“I think that obviously we have hope for some additional financial support,” Creamer said. “At this point in time, we’ll have to see how his proposals play out in the General Assembly.”Strickland said his plan would benefit more than 400,000 students currently enrolled in Ohio’s public colleges and universities, and it will send a strong message to those planning for college.

The second of Strickland’s proposed initiatives aims to fill the gap between the cost of education and what Ohioans can afford. To do this, the governor said he will continue with the full implementation of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program. This program provides tuition assistance for low-income and low to moderate-income families, according to the Board of Regents Web site.

“This will provide assistance to families with incomes up to $75,000 per year, helping more than 100,000 students pay for their education,” Strickland said.

The governor also said the state will partner with the business community and the Ohio College Access Network to lessen the remaining gap with private fundraising.

“Our higher education system will be stronger indeed,” Strickland said. “It will actually become a system unified in purpose with the creation of a cabinet level chancellor of higher education.”

The Board of Regents, a nine-member coordinating board that provides higher education policy advice to the governor and the Ohio General Assembly, appointed Eric Fingerhut as the next chancellor yesterday morning

Jamie Abel, spokesman for the Board, said legislation that will determine the place of the chancellor is weeks away. Currently, the chancellor will not serve in the governor’s cabinet.

“(Fingerhut) was hired to the Board and reports to the Board at this time,” Abel said.

Strickland was optimistic about the future of higher education, saying the state will increase the number of Ohioans with college degrees by 230,000 and increase the numbers of those who start by 20 percent within the next 10 years.

“If we do this right, education will feed the economy,” he said. “Success will bring more success. And the beneficiaries of our efforts will not only be students in the classroom, but all Ohioans.”

Contact administration reporter Tim Magaw at [email protected].