Lefton: Higher ed a solution, not hurdle

Tim Magaw

A new report has confirmed one of the reasons why so many Ohioans struggle to pay for higher education.

According to the Ohio Board of Regents’ annual performance report released last week, average tuition at Ohio’s four-year universities is 47 percent higher than the national average.

The average tuition rate in the nation is $5,836, while Ohio’s is about $8,553. Kent State’s falls just below the Ohio average at $8,430.

President Lester Lefton said the reason for high tuition rates is a lack of financial support from the state. Affordability and workforce development were some of the topics Lefton and other university and college presidents discussed with Gov. Ted Strickland in a meeting earlier this week.

Over the last few years, the government has decreased funding on a per capita basis.

“It’s not because it costs more to educate a student here than in California,” Lefton said. “The state of California supplies significantly more revenue to universities to keep tuition costs down.”

Although tuition rates in Ohio are high, Lefton said 75 percent of students receive some form of financial aid. According to the Board of Regents’ report, 80 percent of first-time, full-time freshman received some kind of financial aid, including loans.

Lefton said about 23 percent of the university’s budget comes from the state and any fluctuation could have an impact. Ohioans’ per capita income is less than the rest of the country’s, which, combined with high tuition costs, creates a problem for those wanting to pursue higher education.

Lefton said one of Strickland’s main concerns should be to recognize that higher education in Ohio is not a problem but a solution.

“We need to change the culture the way people think about higher education in Ohio,” he said. “It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

Lefton said improving higher education is one of the solutions to Ohio’s economic problems because it can help generate business in the state. Universities can help by supporting entrepreneurial institutions and spin-off companies such as Kent State’s AlphaMicron and Kent Displays. As universities generate patents and licenses, it will generate more revenue for universities as well as businesses in the state, he said.

About 23 percent of Ohioans 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Board of Regents report. This is about 4 percent lower than the national average.

Lefton said the low amount of workers without degrees creates a less-educated workforce.

Contact administration reporter Tim Magaw at [email protected].