University gets creative seeking regional funds

Ryan Loew

Economic downturn in the state of Ohio has made budget cuts a reality for higher education during recent years.

And as state support for higher education shrinks, less money from the governor means more than higher tuition ����? universities must now start looking for revenue in new places.

Kent State recently began a regional development initiative that seeks to find new markets of students in areas outside the main Kent campus.

Under the direction of Patricia Book, vice president of Regional Development, departments are being encouraged to look for potential students across the state, such as on regional campuses, and develop programs to serve those students.

?This university is a pretty lean operation,? Book said. ?There isn?t much room for cuts. So we have to get creative, and we have to diversify our revenue streams.?

Finding new money

The new method draws a ?clear distinction between existing audiences and potential audiences,? Provost Paul Gaston said, and if a department is willing to take the risk of developing a program, it can benefit financially.

?If the College of Business is able to determine that there is an emerging need for an MBA program in suburban Youngstown, and it goes there and signs up people who would not normally come to Kent State, the College of Business will get the lion?s share of the profits of that offering,? Gaston said. ?I don?t know of a discipline that would somehow be blocked from participation in this plan. The only limits are the marketplace and the creativity of our disciplines.?

The university will also generate revenue, Book said, as determined by a set of options offered to deans regarding revenue sharing.

Revenue generated from the new plan ?at some point could be in the tens of millions,? said David Creamer, vice president for Administration.

?It?s another way for us to meet some of our needs absent of state support,? Creamer said. ?We would hope that over time that this will become a more substantial part of the university revenue, but that will take time. If we?re successful there, it could, in a small way, decrease the amount of tuition in the future.?

If a Kent campus department offers a program off-campus to a new audience, Book said, that department will get 100 percent of gross revenue for the first three years and will receive 60 percent after that.

There is some risk involved, however. If a department makes the effort to develop a program ?out of their own hide,? Book said, and Regional Development marketed it but received little turnout, then there would be little revenue return on money spent to create the class.

?There?s always a risk when you?re seeking to serve a new audience,? Book said.

The Regional Development Office has been doing market research to minimize that risk and ?make sure we have a good understanding of the potential audience.?

The greater the risk a department takes on, however, the greater its revenue return, Creamer said.

?This is no different than starting a business,? he said. ?It?s not just anticipating that short term. You have to be able to predict how much enrollment will be generated in the near and over several term years.?

The university has had a pilot program in effect similar to the regional development plan for more than 10 years, Creamer said, but was mainly utilized by the College of Education and the School of Library and Information Science.

?It looks like it?s very new, but in reality we?ve been moving towards this over a very gradual period,? he said.

Not all that new

David England, dean of the College of Education, said the college?s ?outreach and entrepreneurial initiatives? have enabled it to supplement the university budget allocations in such areas as support for faculty travel and professional development, and small-scale building renovations.

The college brings in about half a million dollars in ?discretionary revenue? each year, England said, which is continually reinvested into the college.

That revenue is generated from a market of teachers looking to continue their education.

The School of Library and Information Science has seen similar success with regional development since the early 1990s.

?It?s allowed for renovation of our classrooms, and our classrooms are state of the art,? said Richard Rubin, director of the school. ?In essence, it helps us do our job much better.?

Rubin said he estimates his school generates a net profit of more than $200,000 to $250,000 a year from the development program.

Academic and financial effects

Providing regional education means an emphasis on distance and e-learning techniques that incorporate new technology with on-site teaching.

The School of Library and Information Science has used a video conference system to teach its master?s courses statewide, Rubin said.

Students in classrooms in areas such as Toledo and Columbus connect with their professors via a television camera set up with microphones. Students talk by pushing a button, and the camera moves to them on command.

A hybrid model of classes will be commonly used in the development model, Book said, which combines Internet and distance courses with on-site teaching.

E-learning has been a booming market, Book said, and one of the reasons the University of Phoenix has been successful is because traditional schools haven?t taken advantage of e-learning.

But Book said she hopes to change that.

?It creates a burning platform for us to do this,? she said. ?Otherwise we just sit here, and we have to cut more and more. There?s money sitting there for the picking. We just need to go out and get it.?

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at