Ohio State and government officials said OSU students can worry less about finances if Gov. John Kasich’s 2016-17 budget proposal passes legislation.
In his State of the State address Tuesday, Kasich said the objective of his budget is to make college more affordable for students.
“(With) lower costs, a cap and a freeze on tuition, more students can afford college,” Kasich said in his speech.
In 2003, tuition passed state funding at Ohio State, and the margin has only increased since. Tuition surpassing state funding comes as public college enrollment is at its highest peak. In a federal study done by the U.S. Government Accountability Office released in December 2014, the decline in state funding for public colleges is often attributed to competing state budget priorities, like healthcare and K-12 education.
Kasich’s proposal includes initiatives and funding to reduce student debt, limit and freeze tuition rates, and expand scholarship opportunities.
A tuition freeze is in the forecast
Kasich’s plan includes a maximum 2 percent tuition increase in 2016, followed by a tuition freeze in 2017.
Currently, the cost of tuition and fees at OSU’s Columbus campus is $10,037 for Ohio residents and $26,537 for nonresidents. If OSU decides to increase rates by 2 percent, tuition would become about $10,238 and $27,068, respectively.
“It’s probably a very good idea to do this freeze,” said Sam Farren, a second-year in computer science and engineering. “Even though it’s a lot of money up front, it’ll definitely be a benefit in the long run.”
Tom Walsh, OSU vice president for government affairs, said the tuition freeze will not be immediate in order to give colleges and universities time to adjust to a new budget.
“For some institutions, to go right to a tuition freeze would be too much for some of these schools to absorb,” he said. “The thought is, the second year, you give these schools some ability to implement some of the recommendations of the (Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education) so that institutions can start taking a serious look at some of the cost-cutting measures that can help bend the cost for higher education.”
OSU froze tuition for the 2014-15 school year for in-state students, but rose the surcharge for non-Ohio residents by 5 percent.
The Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education, assigned by Kasich on Feb. 10, is a group of nine members who are set to examine ways public colleges and universities in Ohio can cut down on costs and increase efficiency.
Earlier this month, Kasich announced the selection of OSU Chief Financial Officer Geoff Chatas as task force chair.
In order to brainstorm ideas to decrease tuition, Kasich proposed a $20 million innovation fund, something Walsh said he is most excited for. The fund, which is set to be established in fiscal year 2017, would provide resources for “innovative and administrative redesign proposals that result in long-term, sustainable cost savings to students,” according to Kasich’s budget proposal.
“If you can find a way for universities to find efficiencies, start doing some cost-cutting measures that is resulting in natural savings or cost of attendance for students, that is ultimately where you want to get,” Walsh said.
Swimming out of the sea of debt
Sara Wesselkamper, a third-year in zoology, is part of the 68 percent of Ohio college students to graduate with debt.
“I think we borrow at least $7,000 a semester,” she said.
According to The Project on Student Debt, the average student graduates from Ohio higher education institutions with $29,090 in debt. The average OSU main campus student graduates with $26,472 in debt.
Kasich is also proposing $120 million to go toward a student debt reduction fund, which aims to reduce financial debt burdens on students.
Jeff Robinson, spokesman at the Ohio Board of Regents, said there will be no details on how these funds will be used to reduce student debt until the budget passes legislation.
However, students have an idea of what they would like to see in such an initiative.
“When you’re applying for colleges, they need to tell you how to apply for scholarships and grants, and teach you ways to save money in college,” Wesselkamper said. “Every semester can help you.”
Ethan Sprunger, a third-year in public health, agreed, saying counseling services would be beneficial for college students facing debt.
“Is that something that can be provided? Counseling for students on how to properly manage finances and loans,” he said.
An expansion of scholarship and grant opportunities
Kasich’s budget proposal includes $8 million to go toward scholarship and grant opportunities for students, such as the Ohio College Opportunity Grant and scholarships for Choose Ohio First, War Orphans and Ohio National Guard, according to a Department of Higher Education press release.
According to Kasich’s budget proposal, $1 million in each fiscal year will be added to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program.
Robinson said the expansion of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant will be helpful for students who want to pursue school year-round.
“If they’re getting Pell grant money, that money cannot be used in the summer,” Robinson said. “So, this budget would allow students to receive Ohio College Opportunity Grant money in the summer to help cover those costs.”
Pell Grants are direct grants awarded to students with financial need who have not received a bachelor’s degree, according to the FAFSA website.
However, Walsh said he would like to see additional expansion for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, which is need-based rather than merit-based.
“It would allow the university to free up some additional resources so we can provide additional financial aid support to middle-income students,” he said. “We lose some of our flexibility in terms of aid that we can give to middle-income students because our first priority is to try to minimize overall costs on the lowest-income students with need-based aid, so we exhaust our institutional aid quicker because we’re not getting enough support from the OCOG program as we would like to see.”