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Published: 3/30/2005

Owens mulls tuition hike of under 6%

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Owens Community College students have been warned again: Tuition likely will increase this fall, but it might not be as high as previously announced.

Owens leaders are now eying a tuition increase of less than 6 percent - down from an original 9 percent - to coincide with the governor's budget proposal and action in Columbus so far.

No decisions are expected for now, pending state budget details being firmed up, administrators and trustees said yesterday.

While some four-year universities already have approved 9 percent tuition increases in line with the governor's recommended tuition caps, Owens leaders said they don't want to make a final decision without additional information from the state.

"I think we owe it to our students to wait and see what's going to happen" with the budget, said Charles Mann, senior vice president for business affairs at Owens

Last fall, Owens was among one of the first Ohio institutions to discuss raising tuition - at that time Owens was looking at 9 percent - for the next academic year. Owens' officials then received a call from Gov. Bob Taft, who asked them and all other college and university leaders across Ohio to hold off on any decisions.

Since then, the governor has released his proposed budget, which calls for tuition caps of 6 percent and another 3 percent increase that must be earmarked directly for student financial aid.

Owens leaders said yesterday they've decided against seeking an additional 3 percent for student financial aid, in part because it appears as though it's in jeopardy in Columbus.

They also said they don't like the idea of assessing all students, then redistributing the money for aid to specific students.

In addition, Mr. Mann said Owens doesn't have the administrative setup in place to provide those aid dollars.

Last fall, the proposed additional 3 percent hike they were considering would have been earmarked for institutional upgrades - not for financial aid.

According to Mr. Mann's proposal, which was shared yesterday with fellow leaders, the college president, and members of the trustees' finance committee, Owens would gain about $1.7 million annually with a tuition increase that would amount to 5.41 percent more next year. It would raise the per credit hour cost by $6 an hour and bring the tuition cost from $2,660 to $2,804 annually.

Mr. Mann said the increase is needed to offset new expenses in areas such as utilities and health care, which are estimated to cost $2.75 million more next year. Also, $750,000 is needed to fund additional personnel positions, some of which will be required at the new, larger Findlay campus in Hancock County.

Owens, though, unlike some other institutions, so far is not slated to lose money in the governor's proposed budget.

In the first year, the state's share of instruction for Owens is expected to grow by $1.64 million, an increase of 5.1 percent.

That proposed jump is related to an enrollment driven formula that is focused on rapidly expanding student increases at schools such as Owens.

In addition to tuition, officials yesterday also touched on two other major issues: the concept of seeking a future tax levy to support Owens, and discussion about the possible future acquisition of the Penta Career Center land next to the Owens campus.

Committee members gave Christa Adams, college president, approval to form internal and external focus groups to further explore the issue of a tax levy. Because Owens is classified as a state community college, it does not have the authority to seek a local levy. The college would have to petition the Ohio Board of Regents to change its charter and become simply a community college, which has that power.

As for Penta, the nearby career center is planning to build a $90.6 million campus bounded by I-75 and Buck, Bates, and Lime City roads.

Penta Superintendent Fred Susor described any discussions about Owens acquiring Penta's Oregon Road land as only preliminary in nature. He said it would be at least 2009 before the campus would be vacated.

He added, though, that Penta would wait to work first with Owens on a potential property deal before soliciting interest from commercial ventures.

Mr. Mann said such growth could help to accommodate space demands largely in the area of health technologies.

Contact Kim Bates at: kimbates@theblade.com or 419-724-6074.



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