Five Percent Cut to College Costs Proposed

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A new bill would require Ohio’s public colleges and universities to develop plans to cut the cost of in-state attendance by 5 percent for academic year 2016-17.

Senate Bill 4 is the latest in a string of proposals by the state government to chop the cost of higher education.

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, testified before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, introducing the bill that would order schools to submit plans no later than Sept. 1, 2015. Faber called the program the “Ohio Senate Challenge.”

The senate president argued the burden should not rest solely on families to figure out how to put their children through school.

“[Families] figure out how to efficiently manage their own lives so they can afford to send their kids to college,” Faber said. “It should be no different when we ask the institutions to become more efficient.”

Faber said the government will not direct schools on how to lower costs “because, frankly, this answer could be different institution to institution.”

The legislature is searching for new ideas on how to lower costs. Faber noted Ohio University’s fixed tuition model, the OHIO Guarantee, as a fresh initiative, but said raising costs on each successive group of incoming students does not achieve the state’s goals of making college more affordable.

“Good concept, not quite there,” Faber said.

Assistant Minority Whip Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, raised concerns about the OHIO Guarantee as well. The guarantee locks tuition and fees for 12 semesters for each cohort of incoming students, including both freshmen and transfer students. However, each new cohort could face a higher rate than those previous.

Ohio University is set to raise tuition and fees by a total of 5.1 percent in the upcoming academic year for the first cohort in the new program. The university said it will reassess whether to increase or decrease tuition and fees for each successive cohort.

Under that model, Gentile said, costs could easily add up for students who come to college later. For example, a student entering Ohio University in 2015 will pay nearly $23,500 total tuition and fees, according to the school’s website. With an equal increase in tuition and fees for 2016, students in the next incoming cohort would pay more than $24,600. Students coming a year after that would pay close to $26,000.

Gentile also said he worried that other universities would jump to increase tuition and fees before the legislation took effect.

Faber also spoke about cost-cutting suggestions he has received from university officials throughout the state thus far.

One suggestion eliminates what Faber called “credit creep,” which is when certain programs increase the number of credits required to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Faber proposed a 120-credit cap as a way for schools to lower cost to students.

Another potential program offers financial relief to students who take 15 credit hours per semester, which would allow them to graduate in four years. If a student meets that requirement in one semester, she would receive a 5 percent rebate on her tuition in the following semester.

Consequences for schools who fail to meet the 5 percent requirement have yet to be determined.

Faber’s bill follows budget proposals by Governor John Kasich that would tighten the belt on Ohio’s public institutions of higher education.

The governor’s budget proposal places a 2 percent cap on tuition increases for the 2016-17 academic year. It freezes tuition the following year.

Kasich also signed an executive order authorizing a nine-member task force to examine efficiency and spending in higher education. The group must submit a report of its findings by Oct. 1, 2015.

Ben Mathes, governmental affairs commissioner with Ohio University Student Senate, said in an interview on Feb. 12, that he is encouraged by higher education initiatives coming from the Statehouse.

“I think it’s great that they’re saying, ‘Hey, college costs are reaching a tipping point where the cost is exceeding the value, so we need to stop pumping money in and start figuring out how we’re spending the money we do,’” Mathes said.

The House Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education meets both Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the governor’s budget proposals.

As for Senate Bill 4, the Senate Finance Committee did not vote on the proposed legislation at Tuesday’s meeting.