Most area colleges see big funding boost

New formula rewards schools with high graduation rates.

In a tight economy and with a growing number of jobs calling for college-educated workers, Ohio is investing more taxpayer dollars in higher education under the new state budget that devotes nearly $1.8 billion to public schools and universities.

The new funding formula ties 50 percent of state aid to graduation — the highest percentage in the country. State officials hope the formula will boost the state’s ranking of 35th for degree attainment.

Four area institutions are among the 10 expected to get the largest increases, according to a preliminary breakdown: the University of Cincinnati will get an extra $6.4 million; Wright State nearly $1.9 million; Ohio State $1.5 million; and Clark State Community College $1.1 million in fiscal year 2014 compared to the prior year. The amounts are awaiting approval from Gov. John Kasich’s office.

“We’re very excited about this increase in funding,” said Wright State University Vice President for Business and Fiscal Affairs Mark Polatajko. “What that tells all of us is the governor and the General Assembly are really committed to higher education.”

The impact across the state ranges from Ohio University getting a $10 million bump to Bowling Green State University losing $2.7 million in “state share of instruction” money, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.

Three local schools will see a drop: $131,735 for Central State University; $202,990 for Cincinnati State Technical and Community College; and $215,783 for Miami University Middletown, according to the state data.

In some cases, however, the losses are less than originally predicted last February. Miami Middletown was expected to lose 9.6 percent of its funding, but instead will drop 4.1 percent thanks to a nearly $333,000 one-time payment from the state to prevent it from falling too much. Clark State was estimated to lose 0.5 percent of its funding, but instead will gain 11.3 percent, according to state data.

Miami Middletown will be studying the budget “to see how we can effectively manage this reduction in state support,” said associate provost Michael Pratt. The regional campus, whose funding in 2014 is based on students completing courses, hopes to increase enrollment and retention by building new bachelor’s degree programs, offering merit scholarships and using the honors program to recruit high-achieving students, he said. In 2015, funding will no longer be allocated at the campus level, but to the institution as a whole, Pratt added.

Clark State’s new president Jo Alice Blondin said her college’s funding increase is much needed and could be used to update and add technology and campus security measures, such as security cameras. Blondin said it is also evidence that Clark State’s efforts to improve student success are paying off.

The formula change is part of an effort to make better use of state money and also encourage a more productive college experience for students. Previously, only 20 percent of state funds depended on whether students earned a degree.

Community colleges also see changes, with more money dependent on whether students finish classes and reach other success points.

“An investment in community colleges is an investment in our state’s future,” said Sinclair spokesman Adam Murka. “In a time of scarce resources, Sinclair appreciates any increase in state funding that offsets the rate of inflation and other rising costs we face.”

Community colleges statewide received approximately $16 million more in state share of instruction for the two-year budget, said Jeff Ortega, spokesman for the Ohio Association of Community Colleges.

“Ohio’s community colleges are thankful for the state’s investment and will continue to provide an affordable, high quality college and technical education to help Ohioans obtain the high-demand jobs of today and tomorrow or to transfer to a university for a bachelor’s degree,” he said.

Also in the budget, lawmakers capped annual tuition increases to no more than 2 percent at universities or $100 at community colleges.

Colleges and universities still face uncertainty about their enrollment this fall. A number of colleges and universities took an enrollment hit last year as they transitioned to a semester calendar. School officials said it is too early to predict fall enrollment.

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