Miami University in Oxford is an outstanding institution, as close to a “public ivy” as it gets in Ohio. Accordingly, a new plan announced by the university to eliminate the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates - and charge only the latter - should help the university cope with Ohio's miserable record of modest support for higher education.
Traditionally tuition has been lower for Ohio students at this state's publicly supported colleges and universities; out-of-state students have always paid a good deal more. In-state tuition at Miami currently is $7,600; students from other states pay more than twice that: $16,300. But if the university's trustees go ahead and abolish the differential between the two rates, Ohio residents who attend Miami will pay the same tuition rate as out-of-state students, starting in the fall of 2004.
Miami's creative approach could help it manage the constant uncertainty about what to expect in the way of state support, a level that has been cut year after year for all of Ohio's public higher education institutions.
That's part of Ohio's problem: When the economy declines, so does support for higher education. But even during economic good times the level of support is not what it should be.
Unstable support forces state colleges and universities to grope for imaginative ways to meet the ever-rising cost of operations without decreasing Ohioans' access to a college education.
What Miami proposes, after all, is not about access. A school that aspires to excellence will continue to appeal to students of ability, whether from Ohio or elsewhere.
Bright students will still be welcome there, and they can get scholarships to help pay the higher tuition rate. Under the Miami proposal, in-state students could receive a scholarship, renewable annually, for the same amount or more than the yearly per-student funding from the state. Currently, that is about $4,400.
A student's financial need and skill will dictate whether he or she is available for other scholarships. Students majoring in subjects vital to the state's economic future would have access to more scholarship help.
Miami University evidently recognizes that over-reliance on the state, and waiting for the state's funding decline to reverse itself, only force the school to mark time instead of aggressively tackling the tough issues involved.
To its credit, the university has commendably chosen the latter approach.