Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Quid pro quo

Owens Community College leaders are thinking of seeking a local property levy. If they pursue that notion, they should commit in return to moving Owens’ main campus from Perrysburg Township to downtown Toledo, so that the college can better serve more of the population it was created to serve.

Owens’ service area consists primarily of Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties. A local levy, which would help offset cuts in state aid in recent years, could be a sound investment by taxpayers in the two-year school. A proper return on that investment would be greater access to the main campus for disadvantaged Toledoans.

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The current location of the campus — the site of a closed military base — reflects an accident of history more than a careful consideration of how best to meet the needs of potential students. The campus, near an I-75 exit, is convenient to students with their own cars.

But it is much less accessible to the one-sixth of households in the city of Toledo that lack private transportation. Many of these low-income families likely include students who could benefit greatly from the technical instruction and training that Owens provides.

Owens operates a learning center in downtown Toledo that trains students for certification in several fields, notably health care. The college pursues other urban outreach initiatives in the city.

Yet such services, while useful, are limited: Owens’ total Toledo area enrollment last year was nearly 13,000 students; the downtown location had 475 students.

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority provides hourly express service on weekdays between downtown Toledo and the Owens campus. But the college’s suburban location remains an obstacle to a considerable segment of the region’s population that could benefit from its academic offerings.

A downtown campus for Owens would make good use of the revenue a levy would provide, while contributing to Toledo’s renewal. Making Owens more accessible to Toledoans could bolster the college’s enrollment, which has declined substantially in the past five years.

The levy request is not imminent, if it is to occur at all; Owens officials say their review of potential revenue sources is at an early stage. The college would have to gain Ohio Board of Regents approval to change its state charter and become a community college district.

If local voters did not approve a levy within a year of such a change in status, Owens would become a state school again. That timetable gives college officials ample opportunity to develop plans for a campus that would be more centrally located and broadly accessible.

Owens has considered seeking a levy in past years, only to reject that course. Invoking the tax option now would require Owens to show the community a tangible return on such an investment. A footprint for the college in downtown Toledo would be an appropriate demonstration of that return.

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