New funding plan for higher ed stresses graduation rates

FEWER than half of the 430,000-plus students who enter Ohio’s public colleges and universities graduate, and of those who do earn a degree, it generally takes six years instead of four.

Against that backdrop, a special gubernatorial commission has developed a new funding plan for higher education that emphasizes graduation rates, rather than enrollment. The plan would also reward those institutions that enable their students to earn their degrees in four years, instead of the normal six.

“I have long been opposed to being evaluated on the number students coming in the door,” said Youngstown State University President Cynthia Anderson, who has embraced the commission’s funding recommendations. “I think universities should be evaluated on what they’re doing with the students who choose to come through their doors ...”

Dr. Anderson’s predecessors emphasized enrollment because the state funding formula has been based, in large part, on the full-time equivalent number of students.

YSU, as an open admissions institution, has had to offer remediation courses for students who aren’t ready for the rigors of higher education.To address that, Anderson and the board have adopted a conditional admission policy.

But while YSU’s president, like her colleagues around the state, is enthusiastic about the new state funding plan developed by the governor’s commission — it was led by Ohio State University President Gordon Gee — the goal of four-year graduation won’t be easy to attain.

Graduation rates

According to data in the Complete College America website, Youngstown State’s graduation rate — in six years — is 35 percent. That’s low, but Akron University’s rate is 34 percent, while Cleveland State University’s is 29 percent.

A key recommendation has to do with the way the $1.75 billion in state funding for four-year institutions will be divided. Fifty percent of funding in the first year of the biennium will be based on degree completion.

Gov. John Kasich, who will make the ultimate decision on how the $1.75 billion will be divvied up, had this cautionary message: “This isn’t easy. It has to be implemented and executed, and we’re not done.”

Kasich will submit the budget for the next biennium to the General Assembly in February.

Change is coming to Ohio’s universities and colleges, including two-year institutions.

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