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Ohio State USG unveils 4-part 2013-14 policy agenda, Affordability Initiative

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USG President Taylor Stepp (left) speaks at a USG General Assembly Meeting Aug. 28 at the Senate Chamber. Credit: Daniel Bendtsen / Lantern reporte

USG President Taylor Stepp (left) speaks at a USG General Assembly Meeting Aug. 28 at the Senate Chamber.
Credit: Daniel Bendtsen / Lantern reporte

Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government is making affordability its priority this academic year, but the initiative hasn’t been released yet because some controversial portions haven’t been finalized.

USG unveiled its policy agenda for 2013-14 this week, which focuses on four major points, USG President Taylor Stepp told The Lantern Tuesday.

“I’m really, really excited about this year’s policy. I think it’s one of the most ambitious we’ve had in a quite a long time and I do believe that we’ll accomplish it all,” Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs, said.

The priority, though, is its Affordability Initiative, which Stepp said is a multi-faceted approach to lowering tuition costs and increasing opportunities for financial aid. He declined to discuss most specifics of the initiative because he said there are still some controversial elements that are not finalized. Stepp added it will be announced soon.

Stepp said with the Affordability Initiative, he hopes to take advantage of a section in Gov. John Kasich’s budget that subsidizes universities for the graduation of in-state students.

Still, there might be challenges in accomplishing USG’s agenda, particularly in making sure its “approach is communicated appropriately, which is difficult to do in a university that is highly complex and highly intricate,” Stepp said.

Stepp believes most of USG’s goals will unite rather than divide though.

“The university is a highly political place, but the things that we are working on right now are things that everyone can get behind, because the university is all about lowering costs,” he said.

Stepp said his concern about affordability stems from the current national debate about student loans.

“We are in the midst of a crisis in student debt and student affordability issues,” Stepp said. “We have over a trillion dollars in student debt. As an institution, we have to fix that.”

USG Chief Financial Officer Shawn Picha said USG has an estimated budget of $250,000 at the General Assembly meeting Wednesday.

The other initiatives USG will be working on include advocating for wider use of digital textbooks, holding landlords accountable and expanding its Buckeye Road Trip program.

Stepp said that digital textbooks are “the way of the future” and the current hard-copy textbook system only serves to pay publishers, so USG plans to advocate for faculty to use digital textbooks.

Matt Deptola, USG’s senior policy adviser and a fourth-year in public affairs, said he thinks there will likely be some resistance from faculty on the idea of going to fully digital textbooks. Deptola said faculty would likely see the idea as too radical, and there may be push-back from publishing companies that control rights to whether textbooks and printed or available digitally.

Deptola, however, remains optimistic that their agenda can be accomplished.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to work with administrators, they don’t understand our perspective, and aren’t aware of our process. But a lot of things on our list are things that faculty and staff are open to, and that’s refreshing,” Deptola said.

The Buckeye Road Trip program, which is a bus system that USG started last year to give students the opportunity to travel to different cities in Ohio, as well as to different events, through carpooling and a bus system, is set to be expanded.

Stepp said the program was highly successful last year.

Josh Ahart, vice president of USG and a fourth-year in public affairs, said this year’s policy agenda was largely facilitated because he and Stepp agree about USG’s priorities.

One new measure he developed, he said, was an easier system for student organizations to apply for funds – the previous system required student organizations to get in touch with USG senators, but that system was been replaced with a system that allows students to apply through a simplified form online.

Stepp said USG is also working with a new constitution and added that transparency of his administration is important to him. He will also hold open office hours every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m., and Ahart will hold hours every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to noon, to take town-hall-style questions from students.

Stepp feels confident USG will be able to accomplish its goals and told USG members to expect “big things” at USG’s general assembly meeting Wednesday. The individual cabinets of USG will also be working on issues besides the main policy.

Some students expressed support of USG’s agenda.

“I like that they are trying to lower tuition, because being an out-of-state student, I spend almost $40,000 a year to go here, and it’s really hard to get scholarships,” said Alexa Decker, a first-year in linguistics.

Paul Gorski, a second-year in finance, agreed that tuition should be the biggest priority but felt other areas are important as well.

“There are a lot of robberies and a lot of break-ins, and there can always be more security and more police officers,” Gorski said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction and clarification:
Correction: Aug. 29, 2013
An earlier version of this story stated Taylor Stepp and Josh Ahart have office hours every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m., when in fact, Stepp has office hours at this time and Ahart has office hours on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Clarification: Aug. 29, 2013

An earlier version of this story suggested USG has not unveiled its Affordability Initiative because it’s controversial in nature. In fact, the initiative hasn’t been released because elements of the initiative that are controversial have not yet been finalized. 

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