Taft needs to set better priorities

Editorial Board

It’s time for the hypocritical state of Ohio to get its priorities straight.

In Gov. Bob Taft’s State of the State address yesterday, he assured citizens that help for higher education is on its way, which in some day and age, may actually mean a year without tuition increases.

Days before his address, The Plain Dealer reported that Taft wants to cap tuition increases at public colleges — such as Kent State — at 6 percent each year and provide college scholarships to more low-income Ohioans. He repeated that goal during the State of the State:

“I challenge our state colleges and universities to keep tuition increases to a minimum,” he said, according to a transcript of the speech. “To that end, our budget will propose an annual tuition cap of 6 percent, to be exceeded only for the purpose of funding needs-based scholarships.”

Taft knows how to challenge Ohio’s state colleges and universities — both metaphorically and literally.

Taking a closer look, one can see that the governor, who asked colleges and universities to keep tuition increases down, is the same governor who’s been consistently cutting higher education funding in the past few years. Thus, yesterday’s statements are pure and unadulterated hypocrisy.

In recent years, almost all Ohio public colleges and universities have seen less funding than they’ve requested, and there have been consequences.

When cuts occur consistently as they have for the past couple years, schools really only have two choices: They may either increase tuition to obtain the money the state continually denies them, or they may cut services, such as academic programs or busing.

For the 2004-2005 academic year, several state colleges and universities raised tuition costs to make ends meet.

The Ohio State University Board of Trustees raised its tuition 13.4 percent in May 2004. It attributed the increase to rising costs and decreased funding.

Kent State students have seen their tuition costs rise every year since 1997-1998.

But, rest assured students across Ohio: Taft has a plan.

“We must act to make sure no Ohioan is denied a college education because they cannot afford it,” he said. “To increase enrollment by 30 percent in the next 10 years, we’ll expand the Ohio College Access Network so that more young people and their families have access to college information and financing options.”

His plan for higher education redemption also includes increasing funding for the state’s needs-based college grant program and launching a program to provide more than $100 million in low-interest student loans to Ohio students.

As students, we certainly appreciate such measures — including the tuition caps. It allows us to hope for a year when unimaginably high costs do not soar higher.

But the truth be told, Taft’s proposal for tuition caps is hypocritical. After telling higher education it cannot have what it says it needs to further serve students, the governor has turned about face and insisted schools not find money from their other major source of income.

It is clear that if the state of Ohio and its governor would set their priorities straight and finance higher education, tuition caps wouldn’t be necessary.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board, whose members are listed to the left.