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Published: Wednesday, 7/15/2009

Area colleges cautious on fee rise

BY MEGHAN GILBERT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Despite approval from the state to raise tuition, area colleges and universities in Ohio aren't rushing to increase student bills.

Bowling Green State University has committed to keeping tuition flat for at least the fall semester, and Northwest State Community College in Archbold doesn't plan to increase tuition at all during the 2009-10 school year.

Most other schools, including the University of Toledo, said it was unlikely tuition would go up this fall.

Ohio State University, the state's largest, committed yesterday to freezing tuition for the third straight year.

The state budget, which was approved by the legislature Monday and is awaiting Gov. Ted Strickland's signature, allows institutions to raise tuition by up to 3.5 percent for the 2009-10 school year and another 3.5 percent the following year.

That flexibility is in exchange for cuts in the state share of instruction dollars from previous budget proposals.

State funding is $170 million less than the governor's and House's original versions of the budget and $190 million less than the original Senate version.

It's not yet known how those cuts will affect specific institutions.

BGSU President Carol Cartwright said the university will not increase tuition this fall, but there is a possibility of midyear adjustments, which could mean a price increase for the spring semester.

"We discussed this among the administration and the board as a possibility and had a sense that we had done the right things to manage our budget and it would not be fair to have people planning for one price and then at sort of the last minute to have a different price," she said.

"We just felt we needed to take responsibility to manage whatever it was and not shift the burden to students and their families in such a short time frame."

Tuition at UT will probably not go up this fall, but the university is waiting to learn the budget impact before making the commitment.

"I think it is highly unlikely we would decide to raise undergraduate tuition in the fall, but we can't commit to that now because we don't have hard data from Columbus," said Scott Scarborough, UT's senior vice president for finance and administration.

For a full school year, a 3.5 percent increase would add about $277 to the bill of a full-time, in-state student at UT and about $316 for the same student at BGSU.

The cuts in state funding for universities could be significant, with Mr. Scarborough saying it probably will be in the millions for UT.

But both he and Ms. Cartwright said they believe the state tried to keep as much funding for higher education as it could.

Higher education was supported in the previous budget in exchange for a two-year tuition freeze and is thought by a number of politicians to be the way out of the economic slump.

Even with the significant cuts compared to the proposed budgets for the next two years, the state share of instruction is still a 1.7 percent increase over the previous fiscal year, according to the Inter-University Council of Ohio.

Northwest State Community College anticipated cuts in funding and will not need to raise tuition in the fall or spring, said Kathy Soards, the college's chief fiscal officer.

"We have looked at it and don't anticipate we will be doing anything," she said. "We're in a very safe position at this present time."

The college took a very conservative approach to the budget and should be all right, as long as there are not drastic adjustments to the state budget during the year, she said.

Paul Unger, Owens Community College executive vice president and provost, said the college will discuss the impacts of the cuts and the potential for a tuition increase with its board of trustees.

"I feel it will be highly unlikely that our trustees would approve a tuition increase for the fall," he said.

Terra Community College President Marsha Bordner also said it is unlikely that her college's board of trustees will increase tuition for the fall, but it's more likely there will be a change for the spring semester.

"We have enjoyed not having to raise tuition to make college education accessible," she said. "But if our funding is going to be cut, we are going to need to generate it some other way."

Contact Meghan Gilbert at:

mgilbert@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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