Wednesday, July 31, 2002

State wants lesson on college funding




By Jim Siegel
Gannett Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — On the heels of budget cuts that pushed many universities to enact multiple tuition hikes, state officials are ready to examine how money is divided among the state's 68 institutions.

        While the funding formula for primary and secondary education has been revised several times in the past decade, little has changed for higher education.

        A committee of Ohio House members, part of Speaker Larry Householder's plan to examine several aspects of government, heard from higher education officials Tuesday about improving the way schools are funded.

        While this likely won't lead to more money in the next budget, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Chu said he's not concerned about short-term issues. He wants to see lawmakers make long-term commitments to higher education.

        “The most urgent thing is getting improved funding, but I know that's not going to happen for a while,” he said.

        Committee Chairman Rep. Jim Hughes, R-a Columbus Republican, said he wants to come up with recommendations for budget discussions that will start in early 2003.

        “Because of the current economic situation we are in, we look at things closer than maybe we would if we had a slush fund of money,” he said. “We want information telling us they need more money because of X, Y and Z.”

        Tuesday, Mr. Chu gave lawmakers a history lesson.

        He said the higher education funding formula in the 1970s was simple, but led to big annual funding swings that nearly wiped out Ohio University. The formula got a major overhaul in the early 1980s, but it no longer gave schools any incentive to increase their enrollment.

        That brought about the last major funding formula revision in the early 1990s, which softened the impact of year-to-year enrollment decreases or increases.

        But many improvements can still be made, Mr. Chu said.

        “Those are the kind of things we want to hear about,” Mr. Hughes said. His committee will travel to campuses throughout August and September, talking to higher education officials from all regions of the state.

        Mr. Chu ran through a series of questions that he feels should be looked at when revising the formula:

        • Whether the state should continue to fund remedial courses -- no-credit classes that more than one-third of students take because they are not prepared for college courses.

        “The public has already paid once (in grades K-12) for students to be educated properly,” Mr. Chu said. “Should they have to pay for it again?”

        • Addressing higher start-up costs of new programs.

        • Targeting funding toward certain degrees. For example, the state needs more social workers, but those graduates pile up school loans only to enter the workforce at relatively low pay, Mr. Chu said.

        • Ensuring adequate funding even in times of tight budgets.

        “We are asking campuses to educate more students without any help at all,” Mr. Chu said.

        “These are tough questions. After 40 years of formulas, I'm not surprised we haven't answered them.”

       



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