University officials react to the governor’s education proposals

Rachel Abbey

COLUMBUS – Ohio’s economy has to change to fit the times, Gov. Bob Taft said in his State of the State Address yesterday.

Education is one of the keys.

“Transforming our economy to create new jobs does us no good if our students lack the skills they need to succeed in those careers,” Taft said.

Only one in three Ohio high school graduates has the skills to succeed in the workforce, the military or higher education, he said.

Taft proposed a number of ways he wants to strengthen education in Ohio at all levels.

High school students would complete a “rigorous core curriculum” in order to attend Ohio’s state-funded four-year colleges and universities. This curriculum would include four years of math and English, three of science and social studies and at least two of a foreign language.

“I applaud the governor for linking K-12 and higher education,” said Nancy Zimpher, president of the University of Cincinnati. “I can’t imagine that strengthening the core curriculum in high school won’t bring us more prepared freshmen.”

Taft’s proposal would also encourage students to earn a semester of college credit while still in high school.

Many of Kent State’s eight campuses already offer a post-secondary option for high school students, said Pat Myers, director of government relations.

“It helps them feel like they can be a college student, and they can look forward to that,” Myers said.

Taft said about four out of 10 of these unprepared students need remedial course work in math, English or both, which costs the higher education system $29 million each year. He wants to move all remedial education to Ohio’s two-year campuses so students can catch up, but costs will be lower.

President Carol Cartwright said she is skeptical about the figures for remedial education because every university has its own measure. She also said it would cost the state the same amount of money to offer remedial courses at a two-year college as at a four-year institution, although tuition prices for students may be lower.

Kent State has a large number of students who take remedial courses, Cartwright said, because the university sets the bar high for entry-level classes.

“We want to make sure the students get a good start,” she said.

Math is one of the main remedial areas, she said.

The core curriculum program would require a senior math class, which could improve students’ skills.

Rep. Joyce Beatty, Ohio House of Representatives Democratic Leader, said the state needs to improve elementary education, as well as the higher levels. If students are expected to take more advanced high school courses, they also need more intensive elementary and junior high programs to prepare them.

Taft said about 60 percent of all high school graduates earn a college degree, even though more attend.

Taft agreed with the Higher Education Funding Study Council’s idea to grant state funding to universities based on course and degree completion, not enrollment.

“Let’s reward institutions for the number of graduates they produce, not just the number of students who simply come to class,” he said.

This would be a positive move for universities, Zimpher said.

“Everyone acknowledges that the end game is to get the degree,” she said.

These graduates would, the state hopes, enter a re-energized workforce, especially one strengthened in the science, math, engineering and technology fields. Taft said he agreed with proposed tuition incentives, such as grants, that would be offered to students in these majors.

Cartwright said Kent State has many research and graduate programs already focused in those areas.

“That’s been our focus for quite some time,” she said. “We’re not as big a player as someone like Ohio State in that regard, but what we do, we do it well.”

Many of the ideas Taft suggested are bold but empty, said Sen. C. J. Prentiss, Ohio Senate Democratic Leader.

“Unless we put meat behind this plan, it is just a jumbling of education requirements,” she said.

If there is little funding for these proposals in the budget, nothing can get done, she said.

Taft had also mentioned increased state funding for student aid in recent years, but Beatty said tuition prices had been rising as well.

“Money in the hand,” she said. “Cutting off the hand.”

Contact administration reporter Rachel Abbey at [email protected].