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Tri-C says November levy is critical to training nurses, firefighters and police

The entrance to a building on Cuyahoga Community College's (Tri-C) eastern campus in Highland Hills.
Tamara London
Cuyahoga Community College
The entrance to a building on Cuyahoga Community College's eastern campus in Highland Hills.

Cuyahoga Community College is asking for community support at the ballot this November, with its president arguing that continued taxpayer funding, with a slight increase, is critical to producing graduates who will help northeast Ohio thrive.

Tri-C President Michael Baston said in a recent interview that approval of the 10-year, 2.1-mill levy – Issue 5 on the ballot in Cuyahoga County - will help the community college preserve its mission of improving access to higher education and job training. He says it will allow the school to continue to offer the “lowest tuition in the state of Ohio.”

It currently costs $125 per credit hour to attend the community college. That would jump to $556 per credit hour if the levy isn’t renewed, he said.

“Without the support, we actually would have those who are struggling to pay $125 a credit hour to not even be able to be the doctor, to be the nurse, to be the firefighter, the police officer,” Baston argued.

The 2.1-mill levy equals $73.50 per year per $100,000 of assessed property value in Cuyahoga County. The renewal request includes a .4-mill increase over the current levy, which represents an increase of $14.04 per year per $100,000 of assessed value.

There's little that officials have identified as new programming that will result from the increase. Tri-C spokesperson Anthony Moujaes said it will help "keep tuition affordable," while still providing students with the educational resources and technical training they need to be successful in their future careers. A pro-Issue 5 website also notes the continued funding will ensure the college’s "hundreds of programs and educational and training equipment are up-to-date" to prepare students for in-demand careers.

During Cleveland City Council’s Sept. 25 committee chairs meeting, council members heard an update from Tri-C leaders on the levy. While the majority of Council appeared to be in favor, Councilmember Mike Polensek voiced some concerns about increasing taxes and a desire for better partnerships with Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

“We’ve heard for years there would be a better partnership between Tri-C and CMSD,” Polensek said. “Those of us who came out of low income families, Tri-C… was our parachute, our life preserver. And it hasn’t happened the way we were promised it would happen.”

Spokesperson Anthony Moujaes said there are more than 2,200 CMSD students enrolled at Tri-C for the fall 2023 semester (there are approximately 3,600 high school students taking classes through Tri-C.) He added that Tri-C has more CMSD enrollees than any other area college or university. Former CMSD CEO Eric Gordon was also recently hired on at Tri-C in a high-level administrative position that focuses specifically on transitioning students from K-12 education to post-secondary education and beyond.

Tri-C’s has 17,407 students total for fall 2023, up about 10% compared to last year. Tri-C’s enrollment has increased recently after falling from a high of roughly 31,000 in 2010.

Baston said there are a lot of other benefits to society that Tri-C provides, including the fact that many graduates stay in the region to work. Outside of courses for college-level credit, he said the institution provided a wealth of workforce training programs, including in the areas of industrial welding and advanced manufacturing and engineering.

Even if you're not taking classes at Tri-C, that doesn't mean that you're not going to be able to benefit from the facilities,” he said. “So we have folks who are seniors, as an example. They're swimming in our swimming pools. We have children in the summers in our summer camps. And, you know, there are a lot of young people that are in all of the afterschool programs.”

Tri-C is a relative rarity in Ohio's higher education landscape in that the majority of its annual budget comes from operating levies. About 56% of its roughly $122 million budget comes from the two levies that support it, officials told City Council members during the Sept. 25 meeting. The other levy, approved by voters in 2019, also for a period of 10 years, is 2.3 mills, or $80.50 each year per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.