Without basic operating support from State, costs continue to rise
The last issue of Works featured an article, Mortgaging Future Generations, Holding Back the Economy, on the crippling problems of rising college cost and increased student debt. Recently there has been increased attention on this subject at the University of Cincinnati and across the country. Unfortunately, as this article will discuss, the remedies that have been proposed to date are largely superficial; they have dealt with the symptoms of the problem, but have not focused on the causes of the problem: decades of deep and ongoing cuts to higher education funding from state legislature, and exploding administrative costs and physical plant expansions. The disinvestment of state legislatures has helped to create the climate for the second problem; by starving higher education systems of basic operational funding, state legislatures have abandoned their role as “budget watchdogs” and left higher education administrators to cover the deficits through fundraising and “campus enhancements.” John Carey, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, visited UC on January 28th to participate on a roundtable to discuss means of making higher education more affordable in Ohio. The roundtable was billed as a precursor to Governor Kasich’s 2016–18 budget announcement. UC President Santa Ono, Cincinnati State PresidentO’Dell Owens, students, and parents participated. The roundtable discussed some innovative programs that theoretically would result in cost savings. Many of these are admirable and deserving of study, but unfortunately the conversation did not examine the fundamental relationship between the increased cost of college for students and their families and the legislative funding cuts to higher education budgets.
Many faculty members attended the roundtable andtook the opportunity to listen and to give feedback. Cynthia Ris, Associate Professor Educator in A&S, was quoted by the local television station WCPO: “I’m very impressed by all the talk about cost cutting, but I have lots of questions about what the state of Ohio will be funding. I see a lot of students under great stress working 20, 30 or 40 hours a week [to pay tuition and costs].” Click Here to See Article
The UC administration did arrange for, and the chancellor agreed to, a short meeting with faculty after the event. This offered faculty a chance to discuss possible state cuts directly with the chancellor, particularly the impact on students. The chancellor listened attentively and encouraged the faculty to be actively involved in the budget process. Governor Kasich released his proposed $72.3 billion 2016-2018 budget on February 2nd (subsequently introduced to the Ohio House of Representatives in the form of HB 64). The governor’s budget proposes:
- • 23% across-the-board cut in the personal income tax
- •$2.4 billion to higher education funding in FY 2016 (a 2% increase over 2015)
- •$2.5 billion to higher education funding in FY 2017 (a 2.5% increase over 2016)
- •2% cap on tuition increases in FY 2016 and a freeze on tuition in FY 2017.
- •$120 million debt relief fund for students, centered around those engaged in low-income, “in demand” jobs
- •Nine-member Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency that will be charged with reducing costs at Ohio’s colleges and universities.
The governor’s budget represents an attempt to deal with the problem of increasing college cost and student debt. Also, it also does not contemplate the kind of virtual dismemberment of the state’s higher education system that has been proposed this month in Wisconsin. (See Walker Decimates Higher Education and Walker Forced to Admit UW Objected to Wisconsin Idea Changes.) A closer examination, however, reveals that the governor’s proposed budget still fails to deal with the core issue of the decline in state funding for basic operations in the state colleges and universities.
The proposal of yet another round of cuts to the personal income tax (23% across the board cut) is part of a trend that began in 2005 under then Governor Bob Taft. Over the past 10 years, those tax cuts have resulted in a $2.5 billion dollar loss in revenue, with no discernible positive impact on job creation. This lost revenue puts growing pressure on the state budget, resulting in reduced appropriations to higher education—and, therefore, increased tuition and higher student debt. (See AAUP 2015 Ohio Higher Education Report, The Real Problems Deserve Real Solutions).
And although the governor’s budget does call for modest increases in FY 2016 and 2017, this in no way compensates for the last decade of cuts. In 2002, just 25.09% of the revenue came from state appropriations. In 2013—just 11 years later—that percentage had plummeted to 12.8%. (Id.). The corresponding effect on tuition is clear. According to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the average cost of college tuition was $3,431 per year in 1981. Had university costs remained stable, and if tuition had kept pace with inflation, it would currently be $8,000 per year. Instead tuition averages nearly $19,000 per year in Ohio.
That the governor has also enacted a Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency is interesting, and it could probably identify some issues to explore. As past Works articles have pointed out, the dramatic increases in spending on administrative functions, and the corresponding decreases in spending on instruction and the academic mission, are the core problems. In Ohio there is now one administrator for every 14 students, an increase of 25% over the last 10 years. Ohio universities are now employing as many administrators as full-time faculty. This is the area where reductions must be made—but some of those cuts will be difficult unless the legislature commits to re-engaging in its traditional role as the primary funder of basic university operations, and therefore its de facto cost oversight role. If the Task Force is composed of the same administrators who have overseen the dramatic increase in college costs, and decreases in instructional spending, it’s hard to foresee how productive solutions can be proposed. As of now, that appears to be the composition of the Task Force. It also must be noted that the Task Force is being chaired by the chief financial officer at Ohio State. The administration of Ohio State—known for the $6 million dollar Gordon Gee salary—has not been a model of efficiency. If the task force is truly going to be productive it must include faculty and students, the two groups that are closest to and most impacted by the problem.
The governor’s budget proposal, with its increased focus on the cost of college and student debt, is an important step in the right direction. But the conversation in Columbus must evolve and progress to the next steps, and focus on the state cuts to higher education as the underlying cause of the problem. Some policymakers are willing to take this next step in the conversation. Others are not. It will take a great deal of work to prevent further cuts and, over time, restore the devastating disinvestment policies that imposed over the past 20 years.
The AAUP will be involved in this process, actively advocating for higher education funding during state budget deliberations. In coordination with the Ohio Conference of the AAUP, the UC Chapter will be meeting with state representatives, state senators, and members of the Governor’s administration. Please watch for updates and calls for action over the next 2 months as the state’s FY16-17 budgetdeliberations unfold.