Friday, February 09, 2001

Ohio trims university research

Plan to become powerhouse tempered by cold reality: money

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hopes are fading that Ohio will pour hundreds of millions of additional dollars into university research during the next two years.

        Worse, Gov. Bob Taft's proposed budget also cuts the basic support for post-secondary education, according to Board of Regents spokesman Michael Brown.

        If the General Assembly follows the governor's lead, it will mean higher tuitions and less new money to compete with other states in the emerging fields of biotechnology. In his Jan. 29 budget message, the governor asked for:

    According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ohio's plight is not unusual. “We're seeing a tighter budget situation than we have for several years,” it quoted Stacey Mazer, acting executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, as saying.
    What was a “very rosy” economic picture in past years is “very different now,” she added.
    The Chronicle also reported that the current national average for state spending on higher education is 13 percent of state tax dollars. Regents' spokesman Michael Brown said Ohio appropriates about half that amount and has for years.
    Even North Carolina, where public policy and money have built state campuses into intellectual and economic powerhouses, is feeling the pain, the Chronicle reported. The state is unsure whether it has the promised $28 million for faculty raises at the keystone University of North Carolina and $53 million for raises at community colleges.
        • $5.3 billion over two years for post-secondary education. Regents wanted $6.1 billion. That's a 2.2 percent cut in real dollars from the current biennium, Mr. Brown said.

        • $40 million for the regents' Ohio Plan for Technology and Economic Development. Regents wanted $300 million with hopes of maintaining or increasing that state support in following years.

        It could have been worse, given the state's “decades of neglect,” Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Roderick Chu said. Even as he cut basic support for higher education, the governor recognized the need for the new research initiative, Mr. Chu said.

        Mr. Taft's proposals reflect a new reality. Ohio is caught between the hammer of a court mandate to revamp the way it funds K-12 education and the anvil of falling tax revenues after years of seeming plenty.

        The University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University and the 11 other four-year state schools will compensate by raising tuition, Mr. Brown predicted.

        Tradition also plays a role: Ohio higher education has been underfunded for generations, making post-secondary education so expensive that it deters many residents from attending even the less costly community colleges.

        Still, the governor's proposals occasioned no hand-wringing at Ohio's two research campuses.

        “We're generally pleased with the governor's recommendations,” UC spokesman Greg Hand said. “Higher education seems to be doing as well as it can” and Mr. Taft's Ohio Plan funding proposal “recognized the importance of re search universities as agents of economic development.”

        Still, a cut in basic support will pinch students, Mr. Hand conceded. “Tuition will go up. It's one of the reasons tuition goes up.” He predicted an increase of 5 percent, about the same as in recent years.

        That would raise UC undergraduate tuition/fees for an academic year from $5,337 this year to $5,603 in 2001-02 and $5,883 in 2002-03. This will maintain UC's place as Ohio's second-most-expensive state school, behind Miami University.

        OSU officials were pleased by its proposed exemption from the 6 percent statewide cap on undergraduate tuition. It sought and won 9 percent for the coming academic year and promised to spend that and similar subsequent annual increases on undergraduate education.

        There, spokeswoman Elizabeth Conlisk said tuition-fees would rise from $4,383 this year to $4,817 next year and $5,277 in 2002-2003.

        By the end of a requested six-year exemption, OSU will have risen from eighth- to second-costliest state school in Ohio, assuming the rest live with the tuition cap. Increases in the coming biennium will lift OSU from eighth to seventh; Miami is the most expensive state school at $6,403 this year; and there will be annual increases, probably within the traditional 4.5 to 6 per cent range.

        UC and OSU — along with Case Western Reserve University — took the major hit on the Ohio Plan but it was for new programs, not existing facilities, staff or studies.

        Tuition in two-year schools will not go up if Mr. Taft's separate request for community and technical colleges is approved by the legislature, said Mr. Chu, the chancellor.

        Now comes the battle to expand on Mr. Taft's requests, Mr. Chu said, counting on industry and business leaders to tell legislators how important higher education is to their prosperity and the state's economy.

        Mr. Chu is counting on them because he and college presidents “sound very self-serving” when they testify and join others with tales of “woe and underfunding.”


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