Valley’s voice should be heard on future of higher education

Ohio Board of Regents Chancel- lor John Carey and the governor’s point man on higher education, Dr. Gordon Gee, will be issuing a report next summer on how the state’s 13 colleges and universities can balance cost, quality and access.

Carey and Gee, former president of Ohio State University and a nationally recognized authority on higher education, are on a statewide listening tour, seeking input from educators, students, businesses, community organizations and others. Ideas and comments can also be posted on the board of regents’ web site.

Youngstown State University, which hosted the chancellor and the board of regents last week, must be heard from because it has more at stake than just about any other four-year institution in Ohio.

Although YSU is shedding its open-admission policy — starting in the Fall 2014 semester when it will no longer accept every student who applies — it remains an open-access institution.

It’s a mandate from the state that presents many challenges, especially with the new formula for the distribution of state dollars. The formula is based on student graduation and retention rates.

YSU’s six-year graduation rate is 37 percent, while other four-year comprehensive master’s level universities have about a 50 percent rate.

As an open-access institution, Youngstown State is unlikely to reach the 50 percent thres- hold.

That means it will receive less money — unless it gets a waiver from Columbus.

That’s one of the issues Dr. Gee and Chancellor Carey should discuss in detail with YSU President Randy Dunn, members of the board of trustees, students and board of regents member Tom Humphries, chief executive officer of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber.

Gov. John Kasich has made college attendance a priority, given the relatively low number of graduates in Ohio. The changing job market is also putting greater emphasis on higher education.

YSU, with its open-access mission, should be rewarded for its role in achieving the goals established by the governor, legislators and board of regents.

There are other issues that need to be addressed in the Quality and Value Initiative study that the governor’s higher education consultant and the chancellor are conducting.

Post-graduate programs

For one thing, the funding formula provides more money for master’s and doctorate programs, yet legislators are calling for an end to the duplication of course offerings. In other words, the top-tier institutions, such as Ohio State, the state’s flagship institution of higher learning, will continue to benefit, while YSU will continue to be at a disadvantage.

During an editorial board meeting last week, attended by the chancellor, with Gee participating via telephone, the issue of the burgeoning oil and gas industry based on the Utica shale play was discussed. Both said YSU and other universities and colleges must respond to the needs of employers by offering courses and degrees that relate to the new industries.

That is what Youngstown State is doing, in conjunction with Eastern Gateway Community College, which is expanding its presence in the Valley.

But, given the reality of a decrease in state funding and a decline in revenue due to a drop in enrollment, YSU could use a helping hand from the state.

The study next summer should address this redefinition of higher education and the role the state will play in assisting institutions responding to the demands of the job market.

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