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2009 January 13 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Ohio Colleges Hope To Avoid Funding Cuts and Tuition Hikes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — As money gets tighter, Ohio’s colleges and universities may need to work together to limit overlapping degree programs in order to balance their budgets, the leader of the state’s higher education system said.

University leaders also should consider sharing administrative services and allowing some schools to raise tuition while insisting that other campuses hold fast, said Eric Fingerhut, the state’s chancellor of higher education.
College presidents from throughout Ohio met with Gov. Ted Strickland recently to discuss how to deal with a projected $7.3 billion deficit over the next two years.

The big question is whether the state will stray from its
10-year plan to increase state spending on higher education and cut tuition costs in an effort to increase enrollment at public colleges from 472,700 to 702,700.

Strickland did not offer any specifics during the meeting about what could be ahead, but he did reiterate his support for higher education, Fingerhut said.

The presidents, he said, told the governor they will continue to focus on helping grow the state’s economy and on programs that train workers for jobs.

“They really feel they are part of the solution,” Fingerhut said.

Fingerhut thinks universities will be able to avoid drastic spending cuts and hefty tuition increases. He said one of the governor’s priorities is making sure college is affordable.

“Everyone in higher education knows that he has twice protected higher education, that he strongly supports higher education and he will continue to do so to the extent he can,” Fingerhut said.

The average tuition and fee cost per year to attend one of Ohio’s main university campuses is $8,520, which is more expensive than the national average. The state wants it to be among the lowest in the nation by 2017.

Cleveland State University President Michael Schwartz expects big cuts for higher education, but thinks tuition will not go up too much.

State Senate President Bill Harris said colleges help create jobs and should be saved from deep cuts.

State leaders also want to increase spending per student to reach the national average.

Two years ago, Ohio ranked 39th in the nation in spending per student.

Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council, a group which represents the state’s four-year public colleges and universities, said times are desperately difficult.

“There’s no magic here,” he said. “It takes money.”  

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