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Future approach to higher education in Ohio remains uncertain; won't be a 'one size fits all'

Posted at 9:47 AM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 19:19:42-04

CLEVELAND — It is graduation season for our high school seniors. As they receive their diplomas in uncertain times, many in the class of 2020 is graduating into yet another unknown— their freshman year of college.

"I know that students and families wish there was more certainty about the future, but I think in this moment and time, I don't think anyone knows a certain path forward yet," said Randy Gardner, chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

As chancellor of higher education in Ohio, Gardner oversees public and independent two and four-year colleges and universities, and technical schools in Ohio, serving upwards of half-a-million students, he estimates.

He says the approach moving forward will reflect the diversity of institutions and won't be one size fits all.

"What it is likely to mean is that there are going to have to be some adjustments made, preparations made to again, ensure the health and safety of the students and staff and the public," he reiterated.

The state recently announced $110 million in budget cuts for higher ed to make up for a loss in state tax revenue from the coronavirus pandemic. It shakes out to a 3.8% hit to the annual money a college or university was expecting from the state.

For example:

  • Cleveland State University is losing about $3 million.
  • Kent State about $6 million
  • About $6.6 million for Ohio University, which recently announced it's making plans to reopen campus in the fall.
  • The president of OU saying in part, "It is our intention that we will return to in-person instruction in the fall if it is safe for us to do so."

The chancellor stresses safety is the top priority.

"I think it's important for colleges and universities to listen to students and families and make the decisions they think are right and fair," he said. "But again, we know we have to keep the health and safety of students and the public in the forefront of our minds."

How this all may change the college experience is uncertain, but Gardner says he believes one thing hasn't changed: the value of a college degree or credential even post-pandemic as Ohio prepares to rebound.

"I think it becomes every bit important, if not more so in a difficult economy to make sure we have those skills, to have that education background so they can be prepared for Ohio's economy," he said.

The chancellor says Ohio law does not allow for any tuition increases other than those allowed under the state budget passed last summer and Ohio's Tuition Guarantee Program. He says there's no discussion of new tuition authority for state colleges and universities.

He advises parents and students to continue open dialog with schools about their pandemic plans.

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