OHIO Campus cutbacks still loom
The governor spoke of a link between higher education and the economic prosperity.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Higher education advocates say they're encouraged by Gov. Bob Taft's promise for more state funding for Ohio's colleges and universities in his second four-year term.
But they say they're worried it may not be enough to prevent more cutbacks on campuses.
In his inaugural address this week, Taft, a Republican, promised more state money for higher education in the two-year budget proposal he's to deliver to the GOP-dominated Legislature early next month.
Taft also promised to appoint a special commission -- the Governor's Commission on Higher Education and the Economy -- to look at improving efficiencies in the state university system.
The governor "articulated a clear linkage between higher education and the state's economic prosperity," said Jim McCollum, the executive director of the Inter-University Council of Ohio.
The council represents the presidents of the state's 13 four-year public universities and two free-standing medical schools.
"It's a challenging time with the budget and we're concerned, but we're committed to trying to find ways to do everything we can to have our students receive the value they deserve," McCollum said Tuesday.
Many state universities have been cutting back, McCollum said. Even if the next budget adds more for higher education, McCollum said cutbacks could continue into the future.
"This is a continuing management approach that our campuses have taken," McCollum said.
At college campuses throughout the state, some vacancies are being held open; some positions are being eliminated through attrition. Other campuses have instituted hiring freezes, McCollum said.
Other campuses have had layoffs. At the same time, McCollum said, costs such as those for library materials and health care for employees continue to go up.
"All of that looms more largely on the horizon as campuses try to cope with the competitive market for quality faculty and staff," McCollum said.
State funding for higher education was cut $241 million over the past two years as public colleges and universities competed with primary and secondary education for support.
In the next two-year budget, the Ohio Board of Regents asked for $765 million more to make up for the cuts.
Orest Holubec, a spokesman for Taft, said the governor is committed to an increase, the size of which is still being determined. "It'll depend on the resources available, but there will be an increase," Holubec said.
The current two-year, $44 billion budget runs through June. The next two-year state budget must be enacted by July 1.
The still-to-be-named special commission on higher education is to give Taft recommendations in about a year.
Taft has said he also plans to restore caps on tuition increases in the budget proposal he presents to the Legislature. There have been midyear tuition increases at several of the state's four-year universities.
At least one Democratic legislative leader said Taft's proposals are too little, too late.
Senate Minority Leader Gregory L. DiDonato said the proposed commission will not make recommendations until well after the state's budget is in place.
"I think the thing has to be addressed before the budget as far as costs," DiDonato of Dennison said.
DiDonato, however, said he agrees with Taft's proposal to put the tuition caps in place.