Friday, May 25, 2018
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Letters to the Editor

Saturday essay: If higher ed is funded, there will be growth

The Blade's recent series on economic development shows that northwest Ohio's success depends on three factors.

1. We need an educated workforce to compete globally.

2. We need to attract bright, creative people to reverse the brain drain.

3. And we need to foster the work of scientists, innovators, and entrepreneurs whose discoveries will drive the growth of new industries.

Universities and colleges have an essential role to play in achieving each of these goals. We are uniquely positioned to educate our citizens, draw top-quality faculty and students to the area, and stimulate regional research and development.

This is a role we take very seriously.

But I, and the leaders of the region's other public institutions of higher learning, are deeply concerned about our institutions' ability to carry out this vital mission in the wake of the largest state funding cuts in a generation.

State financial support, which was never very strong, was slashed last fall. In seeking to balance Ohio's budget, Governor Taft cut $120 million from the public universities. Although higher education is just 12 percent of the state's overall budget, it took 54 percent of the cuts imposed last October.

The reductions will remain in place when we begin a new fiscal year in July. By the end of the next school year, the folks in Columbus will have taken a total of $290 million from our state universities, a decrease of $935 per student.

These cuts come on top of two decades of declining state funding. In 1977, the state paid for 63 percent of the cost of educating a University of Toledo student. Ohio's share has dwindled to just 43 percent.

And even though we've more than doubled the percentage paid by other revenue sources, like gifts and grants, our students and families have seen their share increase from 32 percent in 1977 to 45 percent today.

Ohio now ranks near the bottom of all states in support for higher education. It is 40th in the nation in per capita public spending on colleges and universities, much closer to Mississippi than to Michigan, which ranks near the national average.

The dramatic loss of state aid has forced the University of Toledo and Ohio's other public institutions to raise tuition.

When state funding goes down, tuition must go up - or the quality of our programs and services will suffer.

I view a tuition increase as a last resort, not a first option. We arrived at the increase after taking many steps to contain costs.

The university absorbed $5.6 million in funding cuts this year by leaving positions vacant and cutting back our spending. And in the upcoming fiscal year, we will trim an additional $1.8 million in administrative spending. So far, we have avoided layoffs and program closings.

Many argue that those attending college should pay the entire bill, for they will presumably reap the benefits of their education.

However, such attitudes are shortsighted and counter productive to the goals of the community, the region, and the state.

We must invest in the future by supporting today's efforts to gain knowledge and improve our lives.

We must ensure higher education remains accessible to all income levels in order for our economy to prosper.

The community and state benefit from strong, healthy universities.

Unfortunately, current attitudes and actions in Columbus contradict this notion. My fellow college and university presidents and I are asking our state leaders to restore funding for higher education.

Many of our lawmakers say that they are supportive, but they believe that it is not an issue for most of their constituents. One legislator told me he has not received a single telephone call or letter on this topic.

I find that deeply troubling.

The University of Toledo and other institutions of higher education in northwest Ohio are essential players in the campaign to revitalize our region's economy.

A weaker system of higher education will result in a weaker economy.

If our state leaders are serious about economic development, they must demonstrate it in the only way that works - by making higher education accessible and affordable.

Now is the time for those who recognize the value of public higher education to make their voices heard in Columbus.

The future of our economy, our city, our region, and our state depends on it.

Dr. Dan Johnson is president of the Universit of Toledo.

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