THE irony is unmistakable. A new national report card says Ohio and Michigan are preparing more high school students for higher education but making it less affordable for many of them to even consider college.
The conflicting message high school students receive is study hard, take advanced courses to be ready for the rigors of college, and, oh , by the way, lots of luck to you and your folks on that tuition thing.
Both Ohio and Michigan received an "F" in college affordability in a biennial report called "Measuring up 2006." The two states got the same failing grade in 2004.
The research was conducted by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit, nonpartisan California group.
The latest report continues to bode poorly for future Ohio and Michigan job opportunities in the knowledge-based economy. It is even more alarming that the two Midwestern states are among 43 in the country that failed the college affordability test.
Our collective reluctance as a nation to invest in higher education likens us to ostriches with their head in the sand. Somehow, if we ignore the problem that keeps higher education out of reach for many, perhaps it will go away, college enrollments will soar, and great jobs will suddenly appear.
Nationally, over the past decade, the number of students enrolling in college by age 19 has declined. Students who can't afford tuition either decide to work until they can or conclude that the cost makes higher education prohibitive to pursue.
When that happens, the widespread rewards of having a more educated population go wanting. And states like Ohio and Michigan that once staked their fortunes on robust manufacturing and agricultural economies fall further behind the competitive curve.
Eventually the gap between those economies clinging to past glories and those marching ahead with skilled, educated work forces widens beyond recovery.
A spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents said the state's failing grade with higher education costs was no surprise. Ohioans tend to regard a college education as more a private good for individuals, said Jamie Abel, and not as a broader public benefit with fruitful economic dividends.
"It's still troublesome because we still have a great number of Ohioans who need to get more education and price is oftentime one of the biggest barriers," he said.
The real shame is how price is shortchanging a generation of Ohioans who, according to the national study, are making significant strides in their academic readiness for college.
"We are at our greatest weakness in terms of affordability," said Robert Sheehan, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Toledo.
"The state has not kept up its commitment for the affordability for higher education," he said.
That is painfully clear in our failing grade as well as our long term economic outlook.
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