Thursday, October 7, 2004

Regents to urge cap on tuition

Move requires more from state

By Denise Smith Amos
Enquirer staff writer

The Ohio Board of Regents is likely to recommend capping college tuition for the next two years, but only if state funding for higher education increases.

Tuition for state colleges and universities could grow by 3.5 to 4.5 percent annually for the next two years under a proposal discussed Tuesday in Columbus. But those caps need to be linked to state funding increases of about 5 to 6 percent a year, said Rick Petrick, the Regents' vice chancellor for finance.

Click here to view a chart
detailing the rising costs of college at six area institutions. (PDF file, 28k)
In fiscal year 2005, the state will provide almost $2.5 billion for Ohio colleges and universities, about 1.5 percent more than the previous year.

Last year, tuition for state institutions went up an average of 9 percent, while many colleges saw cuts or flat funding from the state.

"We're treading water," Petrick said.

The Board of Regents, a nine-member governor-appointed board, advises the governor and General Assembly on higher education issues, develops strategies for public and independent colleges, and manages state funds for public colleges.

Its Higher Education Funding Commission hammered out the proposal Wednesday in Columbus. Now it goes to the entire Board of Regents for approval, probably at a meeting this month in Cincinnati.

Ultimately the governor and the General Assembly set budget priorities.

Ohio colleges are expecting enrollments to grow by about 2 percent a year, or an average of 6,600 more students annually, Petrick said. That may rise if the economy slides further, he said.

"Every time our economy slows down, our enrollments spike," he said, because many among the newly unemployed seek to boost their skills.

If the Regents request 5 to 6 percent increases in state funding, that is more modest than the board's recommended 10 percent annual increase requested two years ago during the biennial budgeting process, he said.

The tuition increase cap it is considering recommending is also much lower than the 9.9 percent cap imposed on most of Ohio's public colleges last year, Petrick said.

But it's still far from a done deal.

Over the summer, the state Office of Budget and Management asked colleges to calculate the potential effect of no allocation increases for the next two years. Though some earlier estimates predicted tuition would have to grow by about 6 percent annually to make up for flat allocations, Petrick said he didn't have final numbers for that scenario.

Officials from some colleges say they could live with lower tuition increases if the legislature doesn't starve them for funds.

"That's the way the seesaw works," said Greg Hand, a University of Cincinnati spokesman. "Tuition goes up at a slower rate if the state allocation rises."

Some students said it's about time that the burden for higher education shifts more fairly from their pockets - via tuition increases - to the state.

"Four percent is always better than 9 percent," said Drew McKenzie, a senior marketing major from Troy who works part-time as an office worker to help defray college costs.

"The state could have been more proactive two years ago. ... It's too little, too late, but we'll take it."

The Board of Regents is expected to meet in Cincinnati Oct. 21.



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