Efficiency Key to Universities’ Affordability and Value- Op-Ed. Columbus Dispatch 11.30.18


Over the past year, Ohio’s 14 public universities have been driving a communications campaign to raise awareness of the value of higher education. (www.forwardohio.com)

Our universities understand the many financial obstacles facing today’s students and their families. We are developing new programs and initiatives to increase student financial aid, reduce student debt, increase degree completion, speed up the time it takes to earn a degree, and more.

We are committed to delivering a solid return on investment. Students at Ohio public universities realize a 13.7 percent annual return on investment – or $4.60 in future earnings for every $1 they spend on tuition, supplies and opportunity costs.

Efficiency and affordability have always been priorities for our universities. We are proud of our record as leaders in operational excellence and resources stewardship. These priorities align with the goals of the Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education, to which Ohio’s public colleges and universities report annually.

The news is cause for optimism: Our higher education institutions point to new programs, policies and progress in areas such as increasing financial aid, reducing the cost of textbooks, simplifying fee structures, creating seamless career pathways, and more.

Our efforts to work more efficiently and reduce costs are more than rhetoric.  According to the Ohio Department of Higher Education, the most recent Efficiency Report shows that Ohio’s 37 public colleges and universities generated nearly $300 million in collective cost savings or cost avoidance in FY 2017.

We are especially pleased to identify cost-saving recommendations that are beneficial to students, such as eliminating sales tax on textbooks, summer tuition discounts, and expansion of the College Credit Plus program, which allows college-ready students to earn college credits, at no cost, while still in high school. Participating students save money by finishing college faster. To date, nearly 65,000 students have taken advantage of the program and realized more than $262 million in tuition savings.

Here are a few university-specific examples:

  • In collaboration with Apple, The Ohio State University provided more than 11,000 incoming first-year students with an IPad learning technology suite as part of the university’s digital learning initiative. The university is funding the program using efficiency savings, which totaled $11.1 million in cost savings/avoidance in 2018.
  • The University of Cincinnati continues to negotiate with the campus textbook retailer, Follett, on students’ behalf. UC has implemented special course fees to provide learning materials through Follett’s includEDÒ program at a volume discount for students. Estimated savings to 11,000 students was $1.3 million in 2017 – 2018.
  • During FY 2018, the College of Medicine at the Northeast Ohio Medical University was given approval to implement a three-year Accelerated Family Medicine Track. This will accelerate the curriculum for selected students wishing to complete their medical school requirements in three calendar years, rather than the standard four years. Estimated savings from this effort are $64,000 per student.

Tuition remains a major driver of the overall cost of a college degree. In Ohio, however, the trend is positive. Over the past ten years (2008-2018), tuition at Ohio’s public universities has increased by 5.6 percent. Over the same span, the national average was a 36.9 percent increase.

While tuition increases in Ohio have slowed over the past decade, it makes no sense for the state to continue to freeze tuition and state funding, while growing the student population at our public university campuses and investing in the high-tech infrastructure needed to maintain our competitiveness.

Such an approach will inevitably be ineffective.

Recent alternatives have included a tuition guarantee proposal that ensures a student’s tuition will not increase for four years. Additionally, the September 2018 Joint Committee Report calls for removing the current state-imposed tuition freeze and replacing it with a cap on overall tuition growth.

Ohio’s 14 public universities have made great strides in operating more efficiently and reducing costs without compromising quality. We understand much more is needed to keep college affordable and within reach for significantly more Ohioans. We are committed to supporting the best students, the best faculty, the best facilities and instructional resources, and the best student outcomes. And we look forward to working with state government, advocacy organizations and community members so Ohioans will have the best value in high-quality, postsecondary education options.

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