State budget mandates tuition guarantees – which most Ohio colleges already have

Ben Deeter - The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

A provision in the state budget mandates that Ohio public universities help increase college affordability.

But most are already doing what the new rule would require.

The provision would require all Ohio public colleges and universities that offer undergraduate degrees to have a tuition guarantee program for their students. Tuition guarantees ensure that undergraduate students pay the same price for major expenses over their four years without fear of prices increasing.

The budget also would restrict how much colleges can increase tuition each year. The degree-granting schools would not be allowed to raise tuition prices by more than 2% over what they charged for the previous academic year. The restriction does not apply to various other fees, including room and board, meaning they could be raised beyond that 2% cap. The previous state budget froze tuition prices for two years at their 2017 level.

Gov. Mike DeWine included the rules in his budget proposal in March, following through on one of his campaign promises to help make college more affordable and accessible. The provision went unchanged in both the House and Senate versions, and thus is expected to take effect whenever lawmakers approve the budget.

But the measure would affect only two colleges in a meaningful way, though, as 11 of Ohio’s 13 undergraduate public universities have already implemented a tuition guarantee. The legislature permitted guarantees in its 2013 budget bill, and the state Department of Higher Education approved the first guarantee program in 2014 from Ohio University.

Only the University of Cincinnati and Central State University had not implemented a guarantee. But both elected to do so after the governor announced that the provision would be in his budget proposal. Both universities will implement guarantees starting in fall 2019.

“I believe families with students at all of Ohio’s public universities should be able to rely on tuition guarantees, making higher education more accessible and ensuring more students can pursue their dreams,” DeWine said in response to Cincinnati’s approval of a guarantee.

State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, a Hilliard Republican and the chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, said that she shares the governor’s desire to control college cost. She also emphasized the gains that the state stands to make when Ohioans graduate.

“Being able to reinvest in helping students attain a degree in higher education I think is really important for achieving our future workforce needs,” she said. “Putting money back into higher education is also about keeping young people in our state and making sure they reinvest in the workforce.”

Until recently, that investment from the state into the students sat below what it had been before the Great Recession. According to Grapevine, a national survey of state fiscal support for higher education housed at Illinois State University, Ohio’s support for higher education increased 9.2% over the past five years.

Despite the overall increase, though, the amount of money the state spends per full-time student has not reached pre-Recession levels. According to a 2018 report from the State Higher Education Executives Officers Association, Ohio spent just more than $6,300 per full-time student last year compared to roughly $7,000, adjusted for inflation, in 2008.

The decrease in state support post-Recession contributed to rises in tuition costs, which in turn brought about the conversation around college affordability and tuition guarantees. And while Ohio has had significantly lower tuition growth than the national average, tuition revenue still makes up nearly half of the total education revenue for public higher education across the nation. Ohio’s average tuition for public universities sits above the national average, meaning students and families still make up much of the cost of higher education.

David Creamer, the vice president for business and finance services at Miami University, argues that it should not be students and their families who bear the cost of decreased or stagnant state support. Rather, he says universities ought to absorb the cost through something like a tuition guarantee.

“I don’t feel like, at this point in time, that there’s any detriment to our financial planning in providing security to students and their families in affording the cost of college,” he said. “If there are temporary costs that need to be faced, we should put our institutions in a position to be able to do that. At least for existing students, the university ought to bear more of that.”

Not every university can afford the financial burden of a tuition guarantee. Bruce E. Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, which advocates on behalf of Ohio’s public universities, said schools with smaller tuition take bigger risks when committing to a tuition guarantee. The cost of running a university continues to climb with increases in salaries, new technology and other upgrades to attract students.

“It takes a certain amount of commitment to say that the price will be the same across the four years,” he said. “What you’re doing is looking into the crystal ball and predicting that you’ll be able to afford the cost of providing education in the coming years, even if that’s something you don’t really know yet.”

Johnson said tuition guarantees, while posing some risks, have served as a powerful marketing tool for universities in a time when much of the conversation around whether to attend college revolves around around cost.

“Over a period of decades, universities have made these decisions about how they want to position themselves in the marketplace,” he said. “People in Ohio are very fortunate to have a wide array of options, some high-cost and some low-cost.”

Ben Deeter

The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

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