Cheers, jeers for rising tuition

The rising cost of education is hardly novel news. Especially for students here at Kent State, where the impending yearly increase has become a guessing game worthy of a Vegas bookie.

So when the Board of Trustees announced a 6 percent tuition increase following its May 24 meeting, students couldn’t be surprised. In fact, the single-digit rise might have come as a relief considering recent trends both here at Kent State and at other colleges in the region.

In fact, since 2000, tuition has almost doubled, according to the University Budget Office. Back then, an in-state undergraduate student paid a mere $2,117 per semester. Even though this fall the same student will pay almost $2,100 more, a Kent State education is still a bargain when compared to the $15,545 you would pay at Case Western Reserve or $11,690 at John Carroll.

But of course, those institutions are private schools, while Kent State is a public one. The real crime here is the state of Ohio’s lack of support for its public universities.

Faculty and staff need raises. Health care costs are ballooning. And energy prices are exploding.

Yet for years, the state legislature and Gov. Bob Taft have essentially flat-lined appropriations directed toward the public university system. So in the face of ever-rising costs, university administrators have had to make difficult cuts and squeeze what money they can out of other revenue streams – federal funding and alumni giving, to name two.

But the shear volume of rising expenses – tens of millions of dollars – means the administration has to look somewhere else. So it turns to the one source of money still willing to open their wallets and checkbooks – students, so hungry for a good education they’ll keep paying, even when that means loans that may negatively impact their financial future.

Look, this editorial board is not asking for a free ride. And students expect to share their fair portion of the fiscal burden. But public universities fill a specific function in society. They educate the masses, which means they must provide a high quality education at a reasonable price.

They don’t do this because it’s the right thing to do or because it’s enshrined in the Constitution. They do it because a highly educated populace is good for society. Education means less crime, better-paying jobs and more money in the tax kitty to pay for roads, stadiums and politicians’ raises.

Taft’s big push over the past few years has been the Third Frontier Project, which aims to bring high-tech industry to Ohio. The Third Frontier will pour $1.6 billion into initiatives such as fuel cell research that could spur thousands of jobs – jobs that would require a college degree.

And where do thousands of college-educated Ohioans come from? Ohio public universities, that’s where.

So cheers to Kent State for the education and opportunity we students are being provided. And cheers for keeping the costs at least nominally below almost all of the other public universities in Ohio.

But jeers to our politicians down in Columbus. Higher education may not be a new frontier, but it’s a proven winner for the state.

It’s time to do right by Ohio’s public universities.

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