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State budget deficit threatens tuition increase

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Tuition increase.

Until recently, Ohio State students had avoided that phrase and higher bills, but Buckeyes should start planning to hear it frequently and prepare to pay more to attend classes.

Ohio Gov.-elect John Kasich, who is expecting a more than $8 billion deficit and must propose a new budget by March 15, refuses to rule out further tuition hikes. OSU officials already are cutting costs, and other state universities facing budget gaps have started raising tuition.

In a Cincinnati Enquirer article published Dec. 8, Kasich said higher education spending is rising too quickly, but refused to predict what the funding would be or whether the state would put a cap on tuition or college spending.

“We have not said exactly what we plan to do. We’re putting that together now,” said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman, in an interview with The Lantern. “Tuition increase is nothing we’ve said. Everything is on the table.”

Nichols said Kasich had meetings and will continue an ongoing dialogue with OSU officials and President E. Gordon Gee to discuss financial issues.

Under Gov. Ted Strickland, OSU received $394 million a year in the form of state funding, including $60 million per year in stimulus money the past two years.

Stimulus money will run out July 1, unless the state replaces it, said Geoff Chatas, OSU’s chief financial officer.

“The state could choose to plug it or they could choose to let it go — we don’t know,” said Susan Ballinger, OSU’s director of budget and resource planning.

The final decision on a possible tuition increase will not be announced until June, Chatas said.

“It’s scary, but at least we know what we’re looking at,” said Undergraduate Student Government President Micah Kamrass. “I trust the university will work out the best solution.”

Kamrass said he joined OSU administrators in financial discussions early this fall to provide a student perspective.

After the state-imposed three-year freeze on public universities’ tuition ended, OSU tuition rose 3.5 percent in Summer Quarter 2010 and an additional 3.5 percent for the 2010-11 academic year, totaling $9,420 for in-state tuition and $23,604 for out-of-state tuition.

OSU withheld 1 percent of each college’s budget, totaling $9.3 million in July 2010, and will withhold another $9.3 million in July in anticipation of the stimulus money not being renewed, Chatas said.

“We set some money aside for a rainy day and it may start raining,” he said.

Other public Ohio universities face similar difficulties. The University of Cincinnati is preparing for a budget decrease of up to 25 percent, which would require a tuition increase, said Jim Plummer, the school’s vice president of finance.

Cincinnati is anticipating a $28.5 million decrease, effective July 2012, Plummer said.

“Unless there’s another stimulus package, that (money) goes away. So across the board higher education money goes down,” he said.

Ohio universities aren’t alone with their budget issues. University officials nationwide have to adjust their budgets and many are raising tuition.

In May, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved an annual 9.5 percent tuition increase for four years.

California State University implemented a two-step plan for tuition increase, with a 10 percent increase effective Jan. 1, and an another 5 percent in fall 2011.

“We are always conscious of the impact of tuition costs,” Chatas said. “We’re not being flippant — we very much understand the impact on the students.”

Dylan Tussel contributed to this story.

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