Universities cautious of budget plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2007

It sounds like a blessing to college students and those who have to help pay their tuition.

On Monday, Ohio Senate Republicans set forth a budget plan that would keep tuition levels the same for the next two years. It was part of a larger education plan to increase students’ scholarships by $10 million over the House-passed budget and provide $50 million in state matching money for colleges and universities to use to attract top national scientists as teachers. Gov. Ted Strickland called the concept the Higher Education Compact.

While tuition would freeze at universities that join the compact, the state would come up with additional funding so colleges don’t have budget shortfalls.

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Although nothing specific has been set as of Wednesday, local colleges voiced some support for the concept.

“I am happy to hear it,” said Dan Evans, the dean of Ohio University Southern in Ironton. “The governor, the House and now the Senate have all said higher education is an important investment for Ohio.”

He said that after years of declining support for Ohio’s universities and colleges, he is happy to see them come to the forefront of Ohio’s priorities that need to be addressed. State funding has been flat for the past six years and tuition costs had to be raised to make up for budget deficits.

Evans said that because the bill hasn’t been passed yet, all the details aren’t available.

“I can’t tell you if the money they are adding is enough to offset the cost of doing business,” Evans said. “I think in general, I’m on board with this kind of talk.”

Jeffrey Perez, the executive director of Communications and Legislative Affairs for Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, said SSU endorses the concept of the compact.

“We applaud the Senate for proposing state support for flat tuition,” said Perez. “What it comes down to is that state will come up with more support for higher education and in return the universities have to keep tuition lower.”

He added that while the university is supportive of the concept, they wonder about what the specifics of the bill will be.

“We endorse the concept but we have to see how it ultimately plays out,” Perez said.

Both men said their colleges are about making access to higher education easier for students throughout the region and being drivers of economic development.

“At this point, we are committed to the concept of the compact,” Perez said.

Some colleges are concerned that the money the state promises, they will actually end up with budget deficits.

‘‘There are some who have suggested that a two-year tuition freeze in Ohio is too expensive for the state budget,’’ said Republican Sen. Randy Gardner of Bowling Green. ‘‘Respectfully, but clearly, we would say that allowing tuition to increase in Ohio is too expensive for students and families.’’

The measure should be voted on by the Senate next week and then go to conference committee of the both houses.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.