Luis Proenza, President, The University of Akron
Michael Schwartz, President, Cleveland State University
Carol Cartwright, President, Kent State University
David Sweet, President, Youngstown State University
The Plain Dealer - November 13, 2001
These are challenging times for the economy of Ohio. Along with rising national unemployment and the threat of a recession, the economy of Ohio also suffers from a long-term slump in personal income and employment growth. Public officials must find creative ways to deliver essential government services within the severe limitations of a state budget hit by economic downturn. No one who has tried to live within a constricted budget can fail to appreciate the hard decisions attendant on such a situation. Yet those decisions affect more than just the current treasury balance. They may set a tone for the future of Ohio’s economic health and quality of life.
A recent executive order reduced agency appropriations by $224 million in this fiscal year. This was bad news for several state agencies, but higher education was hit disproportionately.
Although higher education represents less than 12 percent of the state’s general revenue fund budget, it suffered 54 percent of recent cuts. In the past year alone public higher education in Ohio has lost $170 million in state revenue. That amounts to $550 for every full-time student in every public institution of higher learning in Ohio.
This fall, tuitions at our public universities were raised by an average of 7.1 percent. Now we are seeing universities take the highly unusual step of imposing sizable mid-year tuition hikes. Students and their families have received unexpected blows to their pocketbooks – especially since tuition in Ohio already ranks as the eighth highest in the nation. Furthermore, while a tuition hike is triggered by the loss of state funds, it will cover only a small fraction of an institution’s budget shortfall. Other steps will have to be taken as well, such as reducing positions, services and programs.
Ohio is poorly served by having only 17 percent of its citizens holding college degrees. Higher education is traditionally a gateway to prosperity for lower-income Ohioans. Putting public higher education even further out of reach for those who aspire to earn a college degree, will mean this state will continue to lag behind its neighbors in providing a high quality of life, attracting new business and growing the economy.
The state’s higher education budget is a large and tempting target for the government’s red pencil. But even in the most difficult financial circumstances certain savings may prove to be false economies. Public higher education has always been recognized as a critical investment in Ohio’s future. Educated citizens are healthier, more involved in their communities and more supportive of cultural opportunities. Education provides spiritual enrichment and inspires civic commitment. It also leads to greater material prosperity.
Here in Northeast Ohio, where manufacturing has been a foundation of the economy, we can maintain global competitiveness only through an educated work force and a richly endowed research base. In addition to supplying highly trained graduates to business and industry, each of our universities houses world-class researchers working on industrial technologies and business systems that directly affect the economic health of our region.
Neglect of the state’s support for higher education has measurable negative results on Ohio’s growth and prosperity. Since 1960, Ohio has slipped from 30th to 41st in the nation in the percentage of residents with four-year college degrees. At the same time, Ohio has declined from sixth to 24th in the nation in its personal income ranking.
Unfortunately, these numbers relate directly to Ohioans’ capacity to earn higher incomes and pay higher taxes. According to the Inter-University Council of Ohio, if the number of Ohioans with college degrees just met the national average, state income tax receipts would be higher by more than $1 billion a year.
Gov. Taft has submitted a budget correction plan designed to prevent further cuts in higher education, and the House of Representatives wisely has followed with a modified version of that plan. While rumors circulate of further cuts, we sincerely hope the Senate takes the farsighted approach and votes to forestall further raids on higher education appropriations. These are the very times to refocus the state’s priorities on reinvesting in the future of Ohio through the knowledge industry.