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BG Falcon Media

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November 30, 2023

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Is the well of state funding drying up?

Recently BGSU President Sidney Ribeau was in Columbus meeting with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and other representatives of the Ohio Inter-University Council. The council, comprised of representatives from Ohio’s 14 four-year public universities, is lobbying for more state investment in higher education for Ohio’s next two-year budget, which goes into effect July 1.

As the newly-elected governor and legislature hammer out the state’s budget in the coming months, some startling statistics and trends paint a dismal picture for higher education and Ohio’s economic future.

According to a recent Columbus Dispatch article, Ohio ranked 40th nationally in per student spending, with $4,702 compared the $5,833 national average. With less state support, it’s no coincidence that Ohio state school tuition is 47 percent higher than the national average and the 17th highest in the US.

But it wasn’t always like this. In 2000-2001, the state funded 51 percent of BGSU’s budget ($77 million), but by 2006-2007, state funding had dropped to 27 percent ($71 million). With state disinvestment and increased enrollment, tuition has nearly doubled. In 2001, full-time tuition and general fees were $2,330 per semester. Today, it’s $4,530.

Even factoring in inflation based on 2005 levels into BGSU budget numbers, the cost of one semester today is still more than $1,000 higher than in 2000.

So what happened?

According to Larry Weiss, BGSU’s vice president for University relations and government affairs, skyrocketing healthcare costs and Ohio’s economic recession led lawmakers to cut higher education spending nearly 25 percent since 2001.

Bob Latta, Bowling Green’s state representative and a BGSU alum, said that after Medicaid, Primary ‘ Secondary Education, Social Services, Justice ‘ Public Protection and Tax Relief programs, there just isn’t that much money left.

“The problem you run into is that 85 percent of the budget goes to five core areas,” Latta said.

So when it comes to higher education, “we get the scraps,” quips Weiss.

But as Ohio shifts from a manufacturing to a service and technology-based economy, higher education and adequate funding may be needed now more than ever.

“Today, it’s higher education for survival,” said Randy Gardner, Bowling Green’s state senator and another BGSU alum.

Latta agrees. “Ohio traditionally has been a manufacturing state, we have to convince people that education does matter.”

They seem to be right. According to the US Census Bureau, college graduates make an average of $23,000 more than high school graduates annually.

So the more educated citizens are, the more competitive and prosperous they’ll be. That seems simple enough. But as the importance of college is drilled into the brains of Ohioans, “Below The Curve” found that state disinvestment, individual tuition and other expense increases have made it less and less affordable for students and their families.

“We think public policy is headed in the wrong direction, we should be making it easier for students to afford a college education,” Patton said.

She found that while the past few years have seen record undergraduate enrollment numbers, graduation rates have not kept pace. She suggested Ohio increase funding to match the national average of per student spending and reverse the tax cut on the top 1 percent of income earners.

But such reforms are unlikely because, as Latta puts it, “we need more entrepreneurs. Government does not create jobs. We’re a user, not a developer.”

But that notion may be short-sighted as many educators and economists agree that smart, long-term state investment in higher education can help develop those entrepreneurs and ultimately provide for a more prosperous economy.

A 2006 report by James McCollum of Ohio’s Inter-University Council found that for every dollar the state invested in higher education, $3.05 was generated in creating jobs and opportunities for Ohioans.

But resistance to new taxes is hardly without merit. Gardner emphasized the already heavy tax burden placed on Ohioans compared to other states. A 2006 report by the Tax Foundation, a tax-policy group, found Ohioans to have the third heaviest state and local tax burden at 11.3 percent and the second-worst business tax climate in the nation.

So as other states have lower taxes and more investment in higher education, Ohio’s poor economic climate complicates efforts to bring higher education funding to national standards.

Even worse, Gardner and Latta’s rhetorical reverence for higher education is apparently not shared statewide. Weiss cites a general feeling among state legislators that higher education spending is not all that important.

“They feel there’s no price to be paid,” Weiss said.

To combat this perception Weiss created an ad-hoc committee of BGSU students, administrators, faculty, parents, alumni, and local business and community leaders to help address the state’s disinvestment in education.

Weiss isn’t alone in his efforts. The Undergraduate Student Government is also working to raise the issue with students and to combat contemporary political apathy.

“I think politicians take us for granted, because we don’t vote,” said Tom Bethany, USG’s city, national and state liaison.

Last year USG adopted the Think Ohio initiative, a campaign by student governments statewide to raise awareness about the lack of state funding and to help mobilize students to make their concerns known.

“Students need to get involved,” said Bethany. “Talk to your parents, call up your representative. The more pressure we put on our politicians, they’re going to have to listen.”

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