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Published: Sunday, 9/16/2012

EDITORIAL

Advanced math

Leaders of Ohio's public universities and colleges are right to be alarmed about cuts in state aid to higher education. They confront pressure to restrain tuition increases and limit student debt, amid rising costs and scarce resources.

But Gov. John Kasich is equally correct to seek a revised funding formula in the next state budget that would address the operating needs and academic performance of all 37 colleges and universities, rather than merely reward the political clout of some in the Statehouse. Hearteningly, the institutions' presidents agree.

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The governor and higher-education leaders met in Columbus last week to discuss ways to improve the aid formula; the presidents pledge to submit recommendations by Thanksgiving. This effort builds upon a similar initiative last year aimed at achieving greater cooperation on, and rationalization of, capital spending by public colleges and universities. The latter collaboration is saving money, curbing wasteful duplication, and setting helpful budget priorities.

Mr. Kasich contends that the current aid formula ties too many financial incentives to high enrollment numbers -- especially for community colleges -- and places too little emphasis on schools' retention and graduation rates. A better balance of rewards for bringing students to campus and ensuring that they earn degrees on time is appropriate.

The governor wants to use the formula to induce colleges and universities to work more closely with public schools across the state to find ways to reduce the number of college students who need remedial education. Two out of five Ohio high school graduates now require remedial courses in English and mathematics once they get to campus. Teaching college students what they should have learned in secondary school wastes money and impedes universities' higher-education mission.

Governor Kasich also speaks of using the funding formula to reward other efforts to cut costs and boost revenue: sharing services across campuses, doing more to realize the commercial potential of academic research, instructing students in fields that are showing job growth, making more-efficient use of assets that universities own. Such efforts also could prove useful, as long as they do not encourage comprehensive universities whose primary task is educating undergraduates to reinvent themselves as trade schools.

A spokesman says Mr. Kasich seeks a public university system, not a system of universities. That distinction places proper emphasis on the need for public colleges and universities to work together, maximize their comparative advantages rather than duplicate their efforts, and speak with one voice as they help develop higher-education policy for Ohio.

Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, whose institution often has benefited handsomely from the political battle over allocation of state aid, is leading the presidents' effort to propose changes to the formula. He asserts that "no other state [is] undergoing this kind of revolutionary reform in higher education … If we win, we win together."

None of the changes Mr. Kasich suggests is a substitute for an adequate complement of state aid to higher education. Such funding remains essential to the state's economic growth and educational improvement.

But Ohio taxpayers are more likely to support added investment, rather than disinvestment, if they are persuaded that public colleges and universities are spending their money effectively. The governor's proposed reforms would advance that goal.



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