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Published: Wednesday, 3/16/2005

Taft's 9% tuition cap in jeopardy

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Gov. Bob Taft's proposed 9 percent cap on tuition hikes may be in trouble in the Ohio House.

The 3 percent portion of the approved increase that was earmarked exclusively for student financial aid efforts could be dropped in favor of a flat 6 percent cap.

"Speaking for me, I think [the 9 percent] would be [in trouble],'' said Rep. Shawn Webster (R., Hamilton), chairman of the House Finance Committee's higher education subcommittee.

"The major concern I have about tuition is how will students pay for it in the future,'' he said.

The subcommittee is expected to make its own recommendations on Mr. Taft's budget plan to the full committee in early April. A final budget must be enacted by July 1.

Mr. Taft's $51.3 billion, two-year budget proposes an overall 0.9 percent increase in funding next year and 2 percent in 2007.

It hinges on the governor's proposed overhaul of the state's tax system, an overhaul that would raise about $800 million less during the next two years than if the tax code remained unchanged.

A recent report by the Ohio Board of Regents showed the average annual tuition at a four-year Ohio college or university is $7,508, 46 percent above the national average.

During a subcommittee meeting last night, one lawmaker gave Regents Chancellor Rod Chu a chance to choose what would be better for the state's economy - a dollar for a tax cut or a dollar for a grant for a college student.

"It's not going to be an either-or kind of answer,'' Mr. Chu said. "It's got to be a both-and. You have to be able to attract business and their jobs here, but doing that itself is futile if we don't have the talented workers that those employers are looking for. ... It's a strategic reality that the state must face.''

Some schools like the University of Toledo have already approved the full 9 percent tuition hike for next year with 3 percent reserved for student financial aid. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

"I don't like the idea of caps. I don't care what they are,'' said Dan Brennan, UT trustee chairman. "I find it quite alarming that, at the same time they're cutting subsidies, they're capping tuition. In my view, the market will bear what the market will bear. If we're not prudent with increases, we'll pay a price.''

Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) said it remains unclear how the Senate might react to a House-passed budget bill containing a lower tuition cap with no carve-out for student financial assistance.

"I've always supported tuition caps to make higher education as affordable as possible,'' he said. "I do respect, in a budget situation like this, that colleges and universities are going to have a much more difficult time meeting their mission.

"My preference is that we continue to find more ways to invest in higher education like the [Governor's Commission on Higher Education and the Economy] report concluded,'' Mr. Gardner said. "I don't accept any aspect of the budget to be final today.''

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.


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