Kasich launches budget collaboration among colleges and universities

Kasich challenged the presidents of the state’s 14 universities and 23 community and technical colleges to accomplish those things by redesigning the higher education funding model with a focus on improving graduation rates, instead of enrollment. He tasked Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee to lead the charge and submit a plan by Thanksgiving.

“We all know we can do better on graduation rates,” Kasich said. “First and foremost is, we’ve got to get people graduated and we have to get their skills matched with the opportunities here.”

Currently in Ohio, less than half the students who enter college will graduate. And those who do, walk out with an average $27,713 in debt and into a tough job market where 12 percent of four-year degree holders are unemployed or underemployed, according to The Project on Student Debt and a study from the Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

“This is all about the students. And it’s all about providing the best education as we can for as many students as possible so they can get good jobs and so employers have a great skilled workforce,” said Sinclair Community College President Steve Johnson, who attended Tuesday’s meeting in Columbus.

“We will work together to really make this better for our students and our families and better for the economy for Ohio. That’s what this is all about. Making sure we help produce the talent and that we help create the jobs for those talented people. We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Wright State University President David Hopkins, who also attended the meeting.

Kasich and Gee hope to duplicate the success they started last December that brought together the college presidents to divvy up the $400 million that was available to them for renovations and new construction projects on their campuses. More than $58 million of the money was invested in area schools.

Kasich said changes to the way operating dollars are distributed will be “round two” of that process, which was “hailed really all across the country.” State institutions were projected to receive $1.7 billion for “state share of instruction” in fiscal year 2012, according to the Ohio Board of Regents website. A small, but growing portion of that money is tied to performance measures, which includes improved graduation rates.

“There is no other state that’s undergoing this kind of revolutionary reform in higher education,” said Gee, who headed the seven-member panel looking at construction money allocations “It has to start with us collaboratively thinking through how we can best, in a time of limited resources… how we can create an environment in which we can be successful together. If we win, we win together. Failure is not an option.”

Kasich asked for more collaboration between the state’s schools and for creative solutions, such as Ohio State’s $483 million agreement to lease the school’s parking operation to private investors.

Kasich said also it is important the schools “deal with the problem of remediation.” Forty-two percent of Ohio’s college freshmen need remedial classes, for which they pay tuition but do not earn college credit.

“If we can get on top of our cost here, my goodness, people would say, ‘I’ve got to go to Ohio, because they’ve got quality and their costs are a little bit lower,’” Kasich said. “I believe that reform is an ongoing process. Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Clark State Community College President Karen Rafinski said her school is anxious to participate in the reform.

“We are already looking at ways to collaborate and make our processes more efficient so we can keep education costs low for our students,” she said.

The governor pledged to remove any laws that are barriers to colleges, adding Ohio must trust its higher education leaders.

Kasich’s challenge comes alongside Ohio Chancellor Jim Petro’s Complete College Ohio task force, which aims to find ways to increase the number of Ohioans who have at least an associate degree above the current 36 percent.

“We want to get more people with more degrees and there’s no doubt one way to do is to be sure that we’re funding to encourage degree attainment not just to encourage enrollment. That’s a very important factor,” Petro said.

Petro said it will be up to the college president to determine the new funding formula, but he expects it will focus heavily on rewarding those schools that are constantly improving their degree completion rates.

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