COLUMBUS - A small increase in state funding for higher education over the next two years will pressure universities and community colleges to increase tuition, a key legislator said yesterday.
That is another reason why the legislature should lift the 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases for undergraduates, starting in 2002-2003, said state Rep. David Goodman (R., Bexley).
“We have to let the market operate,” said Mr. Goodman, chairman of the higher education subcommittee.
Mr. Goodman faced skeptical Democrats on the House Finance Committee who questioned whether the proposed state budget would make college too expensive for many students and damage the state's economic development efforts.
In January, Governor Taft called for increases of 3 percent for higher education in 2001-2002 and 3.8 percent in 2002-2003. University presidents said they had hoped for double-digit increases.
Now, they're staring at a funding increase of less than 1 percent in 2001-2002 and 2.2 percent in 2002-2003 - an increase of $100 million under a new version of the state budget that House Republicans released last night.
If signed into law by Mr. Taft, it would be the smallest dollar increase for higher education since the early 1990s.
Republicans cited the K-12 school-funding lawsuit, rising Medicaid costs, and slumping state tax revenue for the nearly-flat funding for higher education.
“We have to fund primary and secondary education first,” said Senate President Richard Finan (R., Evendale).
But Tom Noe, vice chairman of the state Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system, said an education policy that “ends in 12th grade is short-sighted and a prescription for economic failure in Ohio.”
House Republicans want to lift the 6 percent cap on annual tuition increases in 2002-2003 if public universities and colleges hit targets for graduation rates, number of in-state students, and freshmen who remain enrolled.
Mr. Noe said the criteria likely would enable Bowling Green State University, Miami University, and Ohio University to raise tuition beyond 6 percent per year. He said the Board of Regents supports the change and predicts that Ohioans won't suffer double-digit tuition increases.
The proposed budget would enable Ohio State University to increase tuition by 9 percent - $407 - in 2001-2002 for undergraduates on the Columbus campus.
If OSU officials get the green light, the university's tuition and fees in six years would rank fourth among state universities in Ohio, behind Miami University, the University of Cincinnati, and Kent State University.
Some students maintain that lifting the tuition cap could threaten their education.
“This is a huge concern for me and students like me,” said Becky Mocniak, a fourth-year student at the University of Toledo. “I pay my own way. I have two part-time jobs. I live paycheck to paycheck already. I probably wouldn't be able to afford to go to school without this [a tuition cap].”
Ms. Mocniak, 22, the newly elected vice president of UT's student senate, said the organization conducted a phone campaign to state legislators yesterday with students at other public universities.
“We want them to re-evaluate where they want to take this,” she said.
Mr. Taft's proposed state budget released on Jan. 29 called for freezing tuition over the next two years at community and technical colleges, and branch campuses. But House Republicans have cut the amount that Mr. Taft wanted to spend for that program. Mr. Finan said that likely will trigger tuition increases at two-year colleges.
“Fewer students will go to college,” warned Mr. Noe, a former BGSU trustee.
Owens Community College could consider raising tuition as costs continue to rise, said Chuck Mann, vice president of business affairs.
The House GOP version of the budget calls for the state share of instructional costs to climb by roughly 2 percent per year. The Board of Regents had requested increases of 5.7 percent in 2001-2002 and 5.2 percent in 2002-2003.
The legislature's version of the budget would fail to keep up with rising operating costs, including utilities and salaries, area college officials said.
“Our priority all along has been to maintain funding in the state share of instruction,” said William Decatur, the University of Toledo's interim president.
The state subsidy makes up about 40 percent of University of Toledo's budget.
The impact on Bowling Green State University could be cuts to student services and less class availability, said Larry Weiss, associate vice president for university relations and governmental affairs.
Dr. Frank McCullough, president of the Medical College of Ohio, said the college, with its stable enrollment, is more concerned with the clinical teaching subsidy, which is rumored to stay about the same.
No department cuts will result at UT, which will take the funds from one-time savings generated by vacant positions, said Dawn Rhodes, associate vice president for planning and analysis.