Ohio’s public universities have never been more critical to our state and its communities: Bruce Johnson

Cleveland State University

Cleveland State University in an October 2019 file photo. (Lynn Ischay, The Plain Dealer)The Plain Dealer

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Across the state, universities are implementing plans they developed for providing world-class learning and research in the fall semester of 2020 while keeping our students safe. These plans are taking effect in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We believe higher education is an essential service that should not be devalued in such an environment. Despite what some skeptics claim, higher education’s value proposition remains strong.

In today’s economy, a college degree will help you secure your first career opportunity, advance in your current career, or transition to a new one.

According to an April 2020 Pew Research Center survey, college graduates also are more protected from the impact of COVID-19. “While 46% of those without a bachelor’s degree say they or someone in their household has lost a job or taken a cut in pay,” Pew reports, a significantly smaller share of bachelor’s degree-holders (37%) “say the same.”

“Similarly,” according to Pew, “about two-thirds of adults with a bachelor’s degree or more education (66%) say they have rainy day funds that would carry them through for three months. The shares are significantly lower for those with some college education (43%) or a high school degree or less (33%).”

The Federal Reserve recently reported that, “Adults with a bachelor’s degree or more were significantly more likely to be doing at least okay financially (88 percent) than those with a high school degree or less (63 percent).”

The economic impact of Ohio’s colleges and universities remains strong, at $42 billion (2018 data). One of every 12 jobs in Ohio is supported by the activities of public universities and their students. By dramatically improving the ability to earn a good living, an investment in higher education is still the best path to achieving the American Dream.

Basic research on our campuses improves our lives and our world by tackling society’s toughest issues. Basic research also provides tremendous experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, helping to train our next generation of researchers.

Ohio’s public academic medical centers are playing a direct, vital role in fighting the war on COVID-19. They are treating the sick, researching a vaccine and working on a cure. Many of those individuals accelerated their work to be able to graduate early so they could join the COVID-19 front lines sooner than normal.

The impact is substantial. In spring semester 2020 alone, Ohio’s public universities awarded degrees to 6,506 physicians, nurses and allied health professionals.

For all of these reasons, Ohio must nurture and prioritize a robust higher education community.

The economic fallout of COVID-19 – furloughs, firings, pay cuts, shutdowns – has struck a mighty blow, but Ohio is fighting back. We all need to understand that Ohio’s public universities have never been more critical to the future of our state.

Bruce Johnson is president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, an association of Ohio’s 14 public universities.