Ballot box lesson after bad report card

The editorial board of the Daily Kent Stater – and of practically every college newspaper in the country – must sound like a broken record over the years. The yearly rise in tuition sucks. College is too expensive. Debt loads upon graduation are too high, especially at public universities, where an education is supposed to be affordable.

Another week, another reason to complain. On Sept. 7, The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a non-partisan organization, released a report card for higher education. Ohio, along with 42 other states, received an F for college affordability. Our state has earned that dubious distinction for the third time in a row.

Particularly noteworthy is just how far and fast we’ve fallen. Since 1992, college costs have risen so much faster than family income that affordability has decreased by 50 percent.

Back in the early ’90s, tuition and other costs – after financial aid – were about 28 percent of the average family’s income. This year, they’ve risen to 42 percent.

Of course, parents can’t be expected to fork over almost half of the money they need to pay the mortgage, gas up the car and eat. So that means loans. Loans we’ll be paying off for years.

Back in June, the Stater reported on this year’s tuition increase, which was approved by the Board of Trustees. It was 6 percent, far outpacing inflation. For the first time at Kent State, yearly tuition is more than $8,000. Lucky for us, we’re still the third-cheapest public university in the state.

That’s little consolation when you see the loans piling up.

The center’s report card warns that affordability is a huge issue for Ohio. The state is mired in a lousy economy, and it needs an educated populace to attract the high-tech jobs that will drive this century. But based on the report, only 54 percent of our students finish their degrees. That puts us right behind Poland and the Slovak Republic.

Why don’t students complete their education? Certainly there are many reasons, some of which may include problems with the state’s public school systems not preparing incoming freshmen for college. (We get a B- for that.)

But costs must also play a role. Many of us know someone who lost his or her aid, or whose parents suddenly came into a financial hardship, and dropped out for a semester or longer. Ohio won’t increase the educational level of its residents until it makes college more affordable.

The solution, as we have so often pointed out, comes down to the state legislature and governor approving increased support for higher education. But for the past decade, neither branch has seemed interested in doing so.

What can we do, then? Less than two months from now, Ohio will vote for a new governor as well as state representatives. There’s still time to register to vote – and also fully research the candidates.

Find the ones who are talking about higher education. If they don’t mention it on their Web site, call up their offices and ask. This editorial board will help advise you in the coming weeks as we take a close look at the candidates.

It’s time we put representatives in office who truly care about our future and the future of Ohio.

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