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November 30, 2023

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UT wants tuition reform

Funding for higher education in Ohio could all come down to a penny.

University of Toledo President Dan Johnson originally proposed the implementation of a half-cent sales tax to fund tuition for Ohio’s public universities in January and it is now being taken all the way to Columbus by UT’s student government. These student leaders at UT want BGSU and Ohio’s 12 other public universities to rally behind their “power of a penny” state tax campaign to help fight rising tuition.

Leaders at BGSU support UT student’ push for tuition reform and feel that a change in funding is essential.

University President Sidney Ribeau is certain that the state needs to increase the revenue to fund higher education. Compared to other state agencies, universities are the only state agencies in a deficit, Ribeau said.

“Tuition is rising because the state is not providing adequate support,” he said. “It’s an approach that allows the state to invest in higher education and allows universities to stabilize tuition so it is much more affordable.”

BGSU Student Government President Alex Wright also stresses that the current model for funding higher education doesn’t work, and it’s time to formulate a new plan.

“With any type of tuition reform, it’s important to unite together,” Wright said. “If Toledo says one thing, Miami says another and Kent says a third different thing, then nothing is really going to get accomplished. With this issue and all others, it helps to have that unified solidarity.”

Ohio is currently dubbed as a “high-tuition” state and the tax proposal has the potential to transform the status of the state into “affordable-tuition”.

The price to attend a four-year public university in Ohio is the fifth most expensive in the United States, and ranks among the highest in the nation. For Johnson, the next generation of Ohio’s difference-makers are increasingly relying on the education provided by the state’s public universities, but the costs are moving out of reach.

“We have the capacity in Ohio to dramatically reduce tuition with the half-cent sales tax,” Johnson said. “It’s not so much an expenditure as it is an investment for the future.”

The approximate 200,000 residents of Ohio that attend public universities pay an average of $6,000 for tuition each year. The one-half cent sales tax would provide enough revenue to educate all of those students at half the cost, Johnson said.

Currently, students in Ohio are burdened with 65 percent of college expenses while the state compensates for 35 percent, according to the Ohio Board of Regents. UT’s Student Government President Guy Beeman fears that if change doesn’t occur soon, students could be paying 90 percent of the cost and the state will cover the remaining 10 percent.

“Tuition will be out of control,” he said.

In an attempt to initiate change, Beeman is organizing a student rally at the Statehouse in Columbus, tentatively set for April 27. The effects of the rally may not be immediate, Beeman said, but bringing awareness to the issue might start changing minds.

“The picture of higher education is pretty grim, and we need to change that,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to lower tuition and create a dialogue in Ohio that there is something wrong.”

Most students realize that educational funding in Ohio is heading in the wrong direction, but the general public needs to be made aware of the problem, Beeman said.

“Convincing students of the plan isn’t the problem, the problem is convincing the general public that there is a need for a small tax,” he said.

And although Johnson echoes Beeman’s feelings that a change needs to take place, he also realizes that achieving tuition reform may be a long process.

“Even if we start today, it will take a while,” Johnson said. “But we have to start now if we want to see a significant change.”

Another problem that exists is that education is not a priority in Ohio, and it needs to be for the state to remain competitive, Johnson said. Business and industry owners seek to locate themselves within areas that have an educated workforce.

“The workforce in Ohio is less educated than the national average,” he said.

And due to that loss of competitiveness in the state, the number of students leaving the state will continue to increase.

“We’re trying to stop the brain drain,” Johnson said. “We want to keep the best and the brightest, and not create conditions that encourage them to leave the state.”

Legislatures need to be convinced of the importance of higher education and that is something, Johnson said, is what the “power of a penny” campaign will accomplish.

“I don’t think we’ve convinced legislatures of the true value of higher education,” Johnson said. “It’s got to be a higher priority in our state.”

The one-half cent sales tax is a simple plan that clearly defines where the money will come from and will ultimately benefit the state, Beeman said.

“A penny can turn around the status of higher education in Ohio and the economy,” he said.

In addition to organizing the rally, Beeman and other members of UT’s student government will be traveling to all of Ohio’s public universities in the coming weeks to advocate on behalf of the one-half cent sales tax proposal.

“We’ll be going to other student governments and let them know of the plan and what they can do to rally other students behind it,” Beeman said.

University sophomore and leader of CART–the Coalition Against Rising Tuition– Nathan Wiedenhoft said that although BGSU took action earlier this year to advocate for tuition reform, more needs to be done.

“We can’t stop there,” Wiedenhoft said.

Ribeau feels the most affective approach to the issue of rising tuition is to raise concerns, write letters and meet with legislatures. He also pointed out that the budget, which allocates the amount of money the University will receive, is now at the Senate.

“We need to make them [legislatures] aware as they go through the deliberations,” Ribeau said. “Those are the folks in a position to influence the process.”

To make any kind of difference or bring about change, people have to join together, Johnson said.

“A penny won’t buy anything today, but a half-cent brought together will,” he said. “When you start pooling our pennies, they do add up and create a force that can bring about change.”

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