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Published: Wednesday, 8/3/2005

College tuition hikes outpacing tax cuts, study says

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ryan Cook chose to attend the University of Toledo this fall to study mechanical engineering
because it s close to home, which will allow him to save boarding costs. Ryan Cook chose to attend the University of Toledo this fall to study mechanical engineering because it s close to home, which will allow him to save boarding costs.
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Ryan Cook had lots to consider when he was contemplating where to pursue a college degree in mechanical engineering.

Of course, there was the choice of degrees and the cost of tuition. But Mr. Cook ultimately decided on the University of Toledo because of its proximity to his home - allowing him to save on boarding costs - and his ability to keep his job at a company that helps him pay for school.

The cost of higher education and its financial burden on Ohio families is the focus of a study to be released today by Policy Matters Ohio, a nonprofit research group based in Cleveland. The study concludes that tax cuts Ohioans received in the recently approved state budget don't begin to cover expenses like the rising cost of tuition.

"I think it's wrong," said Mr. Cook, 18, of the growing tuition bill he faces. "They raise the price every year. But no matter what, it's going to happen."

In its report, "College Bound: Taxes and Tuition in Ohio," Policy Matters Ohio states that by 2010, an Ohio family of four with a 2003 median income of $69,478 and one child in college will have gained about $247 annually or a total of $1,237 from recently approved state income tax cuts. But the same family will have paid an additional $1,975 in tuition hikes, the report said.

Wendy Patton, policy liaison for Policy Matters Ohio, said the point of the study was to show that when officials plotted the state's priorities, they should have focused more on how much money families are spending in other areas - such as higher education - over the meager savings they may get from the tax cuts that were implemented.

"When state spending goes down, tuition goes up," Ms. Patton said of public universities. "So the state has a role to play in tuition costs, and it's not just putting caps on it."

According to Policy Matters Ohio, the state's per capita spending for higher education has dropped steeply each year and now is lower than at any point since 1984. In response, public universities have raised tuition costs.

A separate study released earlier this year by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems ranked Ohio's public universities 49th nationwide in terms of college affordability. Michigan, at 39th, didn't fare much better.

Locally, both the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University raised tuition 6 percent this year, the highest allowed under a state-imposed cap.

At UT, tuition alone for full-time, in-state undergraduate students is $7,491 annually. Students at BGSU's main campus pay $8,560 per year.

The amount of Ohio's budget focused on funding higher education peaked in 1978 at 17.7 percent and has fallen each year since, the report said. In fiscal 2005, higher education was allotted 11.7 percent, or nearly $2.5 billion.

Mark Rickel, spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft, said that tuition costs have been on the governor's agenda and he has responded with various programs such as expanding the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program to reach an additional 11,000 students. The grant helps qualified families pay for college.

Other state programs include disseminating information about schools and grants as well as programs that focus on high school students, Mr. Rickel said.

Jamie Abel, spokesman for the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees higher education in the state, said just as the economy is cyclical, so is financial support from the state for nonmandated entities such as institutions of higher education. As the state pays less for higher education, students and their families are forced to pay more.

According to the Policy Matters Ohio study, college students in Ohio now pay about 49.4 percent of their education costs compared to 39.5 percent in 1991.

Dawn Rhodes, associate vice president of finance and planning at UT, said there are different components mixed into a school's decision to raise tuition. When the state pulls back its funding in support of higher education, she said, universities have to look at ways of replacing those dollars.

"If the state would invest more in higher education, we would have more people with higher paying jobs, which would increase our tax base and increase the dollars for state priorities," Ms. Rhodes said. "No one likes to increase tuition and no one does that just for the sake of doing it. We understand that it places a hardship on our students and our students' parents."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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