In Focus: Comparing Ohio University Main to Regional Campus Costs

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"Success.” “Adventure.” “Diversity.” “Pride.” “Growth.”

These are some of the responses Ohio University students gave when asked what being a bobcat means to them, but some of those bobcats are willing to pay a lot more for that experience.

Ohio University consists of the main Athens campus along with five regional campuses and three centers in Southeastern Ohio. If the regional campuses are cheaper than the main campus, should one consider it? And what exactly is one paying for at each opionWith a strain on the economy, the question of where exactly one’s dollars are going is becoming ever important.


Senior accounting major Alex Miller started off at the main campus and then for personal reasons, spent a quarter at the Ohio University Zanesville campus before coming back to Athens.

"Zanesville, I'd say, was more education centered,” he explained. “It was school for a purpose. Ohio University in Athens, I feel like it's a community."

When asked if he missed anything about the regional campus he laughed and responded, “It was cheaper.”

A full time student on a regional campus pays less than $2,500 a semester. On the Athens campus, they pay around $4,600 a semester. That’s nearly twice the price to attend and the end result is the same Ohio University degree.

So why the inequality of tuition between the main campus and regional campuses? One factor is size. The main Athens campus has more than 200 buildings, covers 1800 acres, more than 20,000 students, and 900-plus full time faculty. The average regional campus has fewer than ten buildings, around 2,000 students, and less than 100 full time staff.  

Because of the much greater size of the Athens campus, tuition is higher to pay for a lot more scholarships, institutional support, and academic support. 15 percent of tuition goes toward facilities, utilities, and capital improvements. This includes the upkeep on classroom buildings, but also dorms and student support facilities such as Baker Center, Alden Library, and Ping Recreation Center.  It also covers the cost of campus lighting, cleaning services, and police security which are much higher on the larger campus.

The Vice Provost for Enrollment Management, Craig Cornell, said costs are only one part of the tuition equation.  Another important reason for the tuition difference is the type of student regional campuses are serving and what that student can afford. 


“It's about the access and opportunity for those students,” he said. “Could we raise the prices? Yeah. Should we raise the prices? Well if you do that sure you could provide a lot more services. Students may be like we want a lounge but if we do that then we have to add $1.50 for every credit at the regional campus.”

As director of operations and budgets for regional campuses, Rosanna Howard is heavily involved in figuring out what tuition will be. She said that regional campuses have kept below the two percent tuition increase allowed by the state.

"The regional campuses on average stayed about 1.6 to 1.7 percent,” she said. “We are not always looking forward to increase to that cap. We are trying to be mindful to our students and be able to provide additional resources and not have that directly impact the students."

Economics professor Richard Vedder has taught at both the main and a regional campus. He said tuition is not the only thing to consider when thinking of college finances.

"The real difference isn't just the tuition, although it is somewhat lower,” he explained. “The real money saver is the housing differences. You save a lot of money staying at home for two years."

Students attending the main campus who are not residents of Athens County, are required to pay room and board for their first two years.

"Being in Zanesville had its advantages,” Miller said. “I wasn't paying room and board. I didn't have a meal plan. That adds up."

General Fees

There's also a stark difference in the general fees students pay.  The following football metaphor is one way to put the difference in perspective. A student at one of Ohio University's regional campuses pays a general fee of $33 per semester, which would a player at the 3.3 yard line. A student attending Ohio University's main campus move the player all the way to the 62.8 yard line, paying $628 per semester.

The biggest part of the main campus fee is dedicated to intercollegiate athletic operations at 34 percent, nearly $215. Students pay $125 for student affairs. Campus recreation makes up 18 percent of the fees. 16 percent, or about $100, goes to Baker University Center. Although it is just under one percent of the general fee, about $6 per student is reserved for Halloween safety for the infamous Ohio University annual block party and the same amount goes to funding for the bowl games, the Marching 110, and graduate student senate.

Student Senate Treasurer and member of the general fee committee, Adam Brown, said that these fees enhance the college experience of main campus students.  

“The general fee basically subsidizes certain parts of the university,” he explained. “So if you view that football tickets are free, well it's free in that you're not paying every time you go to a game because you've already paid for it through your general fee largely. That's subsidizing parts of the university. So, if that's something that's really important to you – being able to go cheer on the bobcats – then in that sense it would be worth it.”

Comparing Education

A diploma given to a student at Athens campus and a regional campus both simply say "Ohio University," but the data shows that one diploma clearly costs more than the other. So the question remains: Are the degrees really the same?

Ben Stewart, an engineering professor on main campus, believes there's a difference in the quality of math education.

"The majority of the students that come from regional campuses in Engineering, and that's not many, but some of them do find coming to main campus a bit of a struggle,” he said. “The calculus classes that they took the first year or two on one of the branches, maybe [haven’t prepared them] for what's going to happen when they get here. There may be a lot of different factors that go into that."

Executive Dean for Regional Higher Education, William Willan, said that math instructors on all campuses are equally qualified.

"It's a matter of establishing standards that are common to Ohio University,” he said. “Our instructors go through the same clearance process that the instructors in Athens do. When we hire someone to teach math, for example, that person goes through a department of clearance through the mathematics department in Athens." 

Cornell agreed. "A degree's a degree from Ohio University,” he said. “We have strong faculty in both sides of the equation. I think it's really more about the opportunity for the student whatever works best for him or her at the campus that meets their needs. So, it's about an access mission"

For example, there’s Ohio University Southern student and aspiring history professor, Jason Bergman. He's a 35-year old, father who lives a few miles from campus over the state border in Kentucky. He explained that for him, relocating to main campus was not the right fit. 

"I've thought about it but I don't think it was feasible,” he said. “I've got a child and I don't get to see him enough as it is. I'm divorced, so driving two hours away would be worse."

Another thing that influenced Jason's decision to not relocate is his relationships with the smaller faculty of Ohio University Southern.

“I think I'm getting a better education here because I have more access to my professors,” he said. “So I don't think I would pay more to get less."  

Some students would disagree and say that there's not a problem with access to professors on the main campus.

"Students who don't get one on one time here I just don't think are trying hard enough,” he said. “I tend to think if you ask for help and you ask enough, they'll give you time. They have office hours. I guess I never had a problem here, so I didn't see a big change when I went to Zanesville." 

Outside the classroom, Ohio University in Athens is known for its strong social life. Some regional students, like Chillicothe student Alexandria Getty, see the attraction of a residential atmosphere but do not think it is worth twice the tuition.

"I did go down to Athens for homecoming and it was one of the wildest times of my life,” she said. “It's nice up there I will say. Here everyone is focused more on 'I wanna graduate now.'"

Even though there is less chance for social life on regional campuses, there is still a strong sense of community. The regional campuses were created to provide opportunities to access higher education for people in economically distressed areas. The programs at these campuses are often designed to help fill the communities’ needs for trained workers in fields such as nursing and health care, business, and media. Ohio University Southern's Stephanie Sarven said that the nursing program works closely with the surrounding hospitals.

"The campus is very involved in the community around here and there's a lot of involvement actually on campus,” she said. “We do have a lot of students who go to the local hospitals and actually get a permanent job before they even graduate the program."

Willan said that university administration considers all of Ohio University to be one university.

"We try to work well together,” he said. “When our recruiters go out to regional campuses, what we try to do is suggest to potential students that they consider their various options to see what's the best for their particular life circumstance."

Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages to both the main and regional campus experience. Regional campuses are defined by access to a local education, small class sizes, and commitment to the community. To get an education on the Athens campus means more social opportunities, higher end facilities, and a more diverse experience. This is what students are paying for when they pay twice the tuition of a regional campus. Campus representatives believe this does not mean that the education is twice as good. They say students complete the same degree, they just complete it in a different way.