Kasich eyes graduation rates to set funding for universities

By MARC KOVAC | R-C Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- Student graduation rates would have greater weight when determining state funding for Ohio's public colleges and universities, under a first-of-its-kind framework unveiled by Gov. John Kasich's administration Friday.

The proposed policy changes were developed by a group of university and college presidents, headed by Ohio State University's Gordon Gee and Zane State College's Paul Brown, after Kasich asked the different campuses to work together for the common good.

"There is no one else in this country doing what we're doing right now," Gee said, adding later, "There was collective sacrifice for the common good."

The changes likely will mean less funding for some in the short-term. Northeast Ohio Medical University President Jay A. Gershen said Friday that his campus would see fewer state funds, mostly because classes at NEOMED are staggered, with graduations set for every other year.

But, given the university's current 96 percent graduate rate, the plan would benefit NEOMED in the long run, he said.

"We think that it's really terrific that all university and college presidents can come together and agree on a formula that makes sense," Gershen said.

Friday's report marked the second time under Kasich's administration that the states higher education institutions have worked together on budget matters. Earlier, they met and agreed on construction projects to be funded under the state's capital budget, with some campuses stepping aside to ensure the completion of needed building improvements at others.

That's a change from past practice, when different colleges and universities would compete for funding.

"We were very jingoistic, it was about us individually," Gee said. "Fast forward to where we are and around this table today. ... We collectively have made a historic decision."

There aren't any dollar totals attached to the plan. The governor will release his proposal for college and university funding during next year's budget cycle.

Some of the group's suggestions will require lawmaker action to implement.

But the plan provides a framework for determining how the administration and colleges and universities will approach budget issues moving forward.

Among other suggestions, the plan:

n Calls for a half of the state's funding for higher education to be based on student graduation, up from the current 20 percent, plus a shift away from funding based on enrollment.

n Provides benefits to campuses that enroll out-of-state students and keep them in Ohio after they complete degree programs and to those that enroll at-risk students.

n Allows students to transfer course credits among the state's public colleges and universities, meaning students could take classes at a community college, then transfer to a different four-year campus to complete a degree.

The plan was released as Kasich and administration officials increased their calls for better cooperation between public education and private business, with the governor wanting companies to forecast employment needs and outline skills needed to fill them and schools providing more focused curriculums to help students on their career paths.

"We have to get the entire education community to be flexible, to be integrated with our business community and to feed kids what they want to eat," Kasich said.

Cynthia E. Anderson, president of Youngstown State University, said the plan was a long time coming and much needed.

"I have long been opposed to being evaluated on the number of students coming in the door," she said. "I think that universities should be evaluated on what they're doing with the students who choose to come through their doors and the output that they are giving. This is a first stop in that."

Anderson added that increased efforts to link colleges and universities with technical schools and primary and secondary education would ultimately benefit Youngstown and other communities.

"There are plenty of students to go around for everyone," she said. "It's our responsibility to find those individuals, figure out what it is their dreams and aspirations are and get them to the right institutions where they can follow those dreams and aspirations."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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