Half of State Funding for Colleges Could Depend on Graduation

OSU President Gordon Gee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Chancellor Jim Petro. Karen Kasler / Statehouse News Bureau
OSU President Gordon Gee, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Chancellor Jim Petro. Karen Kasler / Statehouse News Bureau
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Thirty-one presidents representing Ohio’s 14 public universities, 24 regional campuses and 23 community colleges sat in the Statehouse cabinet room, facing Gov. John Kasich. The governor was flanked by Chancellor Jim Petro, who oversees Ohio’s higher education system, and Gordon Gee, who as Ohio State University’s president is clearly the education leader everyone listens to -- as evident by the fact that the meeting was held up by a few minutes until Gee arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: "Hi, Gordon. How are you?”

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: “Always late.”

While the gathering of the heads of the state’s higher ed leadership was unique, the reforms they brought forward have been talked about before. But the governor says there’s a new focus on results and incentives.

KASICH: “The greatest motivation for me, when I was getting educated as a kid K-12, is that my parents would not let me play baseball if I didn’t make the honor roll. OK? I didn’t understand till later that if I didn’t get certain things, I couldn’t be certain things, and then I started getting more motivated. That’s where I want us to go and I hope – and we’re going to work together.”

Under the plan, agreed upon by the presidents, as presented by Gee on behalf of the group, half of all state funding for state colleges and universities would be tied to the schools’ ability to graduate students, not just to enroll them.

For four-year institutions, that’s a big increase over the funding now tied to graduation, which is right now about 20 percent. But Gee says there won’t be a temptation to pad the data to get more money.

GEE: “One issue that I can assure you that we will make sure that we do not have is a process whereby people are rewarded for ‘body completion’ – they’re rewarded for ‘quality completion,' and that will be part of the incentive process.”

And the plan also would reward universities for attracting top students and then keeping them in Ohio after graduation. It seeks to repeal rules for regional campuses that main campuses don’t have, and to eliminate the separate formula for funding main campuses versus regional ones. For community colleges, there would be rewards for training non-traditional and at-risk students, and for students who successfully complete associates’ degrees. But for many parents and students, the question is not about state money, but about the money they have to shell out for tuition and other college costs.

Ohio University president Roderick McDavis says these incentives will force the institutions to help kids focus and get out more quickly.

MCDAVIS: “If you complete a college degree in less than four years, you’re saving money. What now we begin to do is to put more advisers in place, to put more people in place who can carve out a pathway to help students understand you can reach your goals sooner.”

While there’s a lot of talk of rewards, there aren’t many specifics in these recommendations on what the rewards will be and how success will be measured. But Gee says this is a journey, and is just the first of ten rounds.

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