Study: Ohio 45th of 50 states in college affordability

Ohio ranks 45th of 50 states in college affordability according to a Vanderbilt University study, a major challenge given that leaders across many sectors of Ohio say the key to future success is building a more educated workforce.

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Philanthropy Ohio spotlighted three key problems in a report and public event Thursday at the Statehouse.

** Ohio allocates less of its state and federal expenditures toward higher education, with state appropriations per student about $1,900 below the national average.

** Despite significant recent improvements, tuition at Ohio colleges is 11 percent higher than the national average for four-year public schools, and 14 percent higher for community colleges.

** State need-based financial aid is $123 million below pre-recession levels in Ohio, dramatically below all surrounding states. A new analysis from the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities says need-based aid, averaged across all full-time students, is at $188 per student in Ohio, compared to $497 in Kentucky, $841 in Pennsylvania and $955 in Indiana.

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“The combination of those three factors … puts higher education out of reach for much of Ohio’s population,” said Maggie McGrath, project director for the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland. “That has big implications for Ohio’s future.”

A study by Vanderbilt University professor Will Doyle and University of Pennsylvania researchers measured college affordability as tuition and required fees minus grant aid, in the context of median income.

“Affordability is not just what colleges charge. The basic finding here is that Ohio’s net prices are way out of line with what families can pay,” Doyle said. “On average, families are asked to pay 37 percent of their income every year for students to attend. That’s among the highest in the country. In the best performing states, it’s around 20 to 25 percent. That’s still high, but 37 percent is insanely high.”

Philanthropy Ohio said the state has taken some good steps – tuition caps, performance-based funding, and better K-12 preparation efforts – but called them “neither bold enough nor far-reaching enough to produce the large-scale outcomes our state needs.”

Their report, Investing in Ohio’s Future Now, made several recommendations to the state. It called for increased funding for need-based financial aid tied to college completion, new community college aid, creation of state-based tax credits similar to federal programs, and more.

The recommendations for Ohio colleges included creation of transfer centers to help more students advance from community colleges to four-year degrees, and availability of emergency funds for students academically on track to graduate who hit financial hurdles.

“If our state is going to be economically viable, we need more intellectual capital to make that possible, and college affordability is a key element to that,” said Learn to Earn Dayton CEO Tom Lasley, who led the event.

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Lasley pointed to data that only 37 percent of Ohioans have an associate, bachelor’s or advanced degree, ranking Ohio 36th in the nation.

Neil Ridley, state initiative director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, cited data that workers with bachelor’s degrees in Ohio tend to earn about 60 percent more than high school-only graduates. “These wage differences translate into very large differences in lifetime earnings,” Ridley said. “Post-secondary attainment has multiple private benefits and multiple (societal) benefits. It’s critical to a strong workforce. And the path to higher educational attainment runs right through the college affordability issue.”

Peggy Lehner, Chair of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, said she hopes people pay attention to Thursday’s report, calling it a shame that only a few legislators attended to hear what she called “stark, bad” statistics. The state budget process, funding higher education and many other areas for the next two years, is currently under way.

“Ultimately the people who control the amount of money that we give to higher education … the buck stops right here with the governor and the legislature,” Lehner said. “We’re ranked where we’re ranked. They’re not fudging those numbers. I think we could do more. It’s a question of priorities.

“They make a very fair argument,” Lehner continued. “If you can’t afford the education, you’re not going to get the education. If you don’t have the education, you’re not going to get the job. It’s as simple as that. This one’s not that complex.”

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