Board Of Trustees Discusses College Affordability

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Members of the Ohio University Board of Trustees had differing opinions on sources of problems colleges and universities have with being affordable and efficient.

In a meeting of the Joint Resources and Academics Committee, Vice President of Finance and Administration Stephen T. Golding presented recommendations of a task force set forth by Governor John Kasich to reduce student costs and increase accessibility in two-year and four-year institutions. One of the options Golding presented as part of the recommendations was encouraging students to complete their degrees on-time or early, including increasing summer enrollment.

The recommendations come as a House Bill also requires the boards of trustees of each state high education institution to “develop and implement a plan to reduce the student cost of earning a degree,” based on average tuition, fees, room and board and textbooks, by five percent. A similar Senate 5 percent challenge has also been proposed for institutions.

Trustees on the committee and OU President Roderick McDavis agreed that programs at the university were designed to be completed within three years, but disagreed on students’ motivation to do so.

“This is the only (university) where I’ve worked where seniors well up because it’s their last semester,” McDavis said, talking about the residential campus atmosphere that OU has.

Golding said university statistics showed that 46 percent of students graduate in programs from which they would be eligible to graduate in three years. But Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit cited additional costs like study abroad and extra classes that students incur by choice. Trustee N. Victor Goodman also expressed frustration about the assumption of control the board has over student funding.

“We don’t control when the Pell money comes out where the young man or the young woman spend the money,” Goodman said. “Now, there are people in the House in Washington who will say it’s only to be used for tuition…no more pizzas…”

Student trustee Sharmaine Wilcox said prerequisites and waits for classes can tie up the process of graduating earlier, along with a student’s desire to do well.

“Do I rush through and maybe risk the quality of the work?” Wilcox asked the board.

Board Vice Chairman David Wolfort weighed the experience of students versus the drive to graduate as quickly as possible.

“One of the questions… to ask is, in an effort to pare down costs for that student…what’s the experiential cost to that student,” Wolfort said.

Recommendations did not account for the age of the incoming students and the exploration that can be a part of the college experience, according to faculty representative Joe McLaughlin.

“All of these (three-year eligible) programs assume that an 18-year-old knows what they want to do with their life when they get to college,” McLaughlin said.

McDavis said he “felt compelled” to mention a unique part of the OU experience that could also motivate students to stay longer, despite his disapproval of it.

“When students see that Ohio University is the number one party school, they…want to spend four years doing that,” McDavis said.

The board is set to complete an efficiency review by July 1, 2016, with an implementation plan within 30 days of that.

A regular meeting of the board is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow.