Ohio told to raise college graduation rates

Fewer than half the students who begin college in Ohio graduate, meaning “the student has wasted their money and we have wasted our money,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro, who convened the report.

“We have to do better,” said Petro, who considers this initiative his most important objective. “We’ve got a great future, but not if we squander it.”

For the first time, the regents and higher education leaders statewide released a new report, Complete College Ohio, that offers 20 key recommendations that include getting high school students ready for college, helping all students graduate on time and ensuring they earn degrees that connect them directly to jobs.

It is projected by 2018 that 57 percent of the new jobs planned for Ohio will require working adults with a college degree. So far, only 36 percent of working age adults have a degree.

“If you want to hold onto the employers and jobs you have — much less attract new and better jobs — we really have to up the ante in Ohio in terms of college completion,” said James Applegate, vice president of program development for the Lumina Foundation, which awarded Ohio a $500,000 grant to increase the number of transfer students with associate degrees.

Among the recommendations are to replace the Ohio Graduate Test for high school students with a nationally standardized assessment, such as the ACT, by 2014-15, to counsel students on what jobs are available in their region and in the state and to be more transparent about the total cost to attend college and the return on investment of the degree they choose.

Some of the financial recommendations include locking in a four-year tuition price as an incentive to graduate on time, having Ohio students pay out-of-state tuition rates when they far exceed the number required credit hours and offering grants and scholarships to community and technical college students when they transfer to another Ohio school.

The only mandatory requirement in the report is for each university, college and adult career technical center to devise its own campus completion plan. A deadline for submitting that plan has not yet been set.

“All of them are very worthy recommendations and all would make an impact,” said David Devier, vice president of academic and student affairs at Clark State Community College.

The recommendations speak to the challenges Ohio faces to improve its college attainment rate, which ranks 35th nationally.

“While Ohio ranks very low in completion, it ranks very high in student debt,” said Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, who spoke at the conference.

The average debt for Ohio college graduates is $28,683, according to the Project on Student Loan Debt. About 42 percent of Ohio freshmen are not ready for college and need at least one remedial class, which usually cost the same as regular tuition but do not earn credit toward a degree.

Applegate said improving completion rates is urgent because “a high school credential by itself in this economy… is simply, simply a ticket to being working poor.”

The United States has lost its top world ranking, falling to 13th for college degree attainment. Ohio is tied with Spain, Estonia and Denmark for people with college degrees; and the Dayton and Cincinnati metropolitan regions are on par at about 36.7 percent and 39.4 percent, respectively, according to Lumina.

Petro said the nation has not made gains in educating its population since the 1970s.

“How can we become less educated today than we were 40 years ago?”, Petro said. “But as a state and a nation we are. During this period, other nations have stepped ahead of us and they’ve grown economically at our expense.”

Larry Klaben, chairman of Wright State University’s board of trustees, said the Dayton region and Ohio need “to return to a position where we have a much higher educated citizenry,” especially as the Miami Valley leads in aerospace and biotechnology.

Sinclair Community College President Steve Johnson said getting more students to complete their college education will require collaboration with all of Ohio’s colleges and universities.

“I think we’re doing the right thing at the right time,” he said.

University and college presidents are also nearing a deadline to submit a new formula for how higher education is funded that focuses on graduation rather than enrollment. Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee is leading this effort and is to deliver the report to Gov. John Kasich by Thanksgiving.

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