College proposals could cut costs, Clark State leaders say

At the center of Gov. John Kasich’s recent policy recommendations are a slew of higher education policy changes geared toward creating more affordable pathways for a college degree.

Highlights of Kasich’s 2016 mid-biennium review include allowing community colleges to create bachelor’s degrees, tuition agreements with other Midwestern states and revising College Credit PLUS guidelines.

“These reforms should help cut student debt and educate students and families that they have options that will save them money,” said Jo Alice Blondin, president of Clark State Community College. “These reforms will create an environment that educates more students to finish more quickly, and at a lower cost. Now that is a win-win.”

Clark State didn’t say whether it would pursue a four-year degree, but it’s looking at another proposal in the bill: the so-called 3-plus-1 pathway.

That would allow students to take three years at a community college and graduate with a four-year degree after one year at an in-state university in select programs.

“With cost-saving opportunities for students and families such as College Credit Plus — dual enrollment for high school students — and 3-plus-1 agreements, students can save nearly 80 percent or even more off the cost of a four-year degree,” Blondin said.

Sinclair Community College leaders said if the proposals are approved, the school would “aggressively explore” adding a four-year degree in aviation or unmanned aerial systems.

Sinclair says the flexibility to offer a four-year degree would help grow the drone industry in the Dayton region.

“Personally, I think the possibility of Sinclair creating a UAS bachelor’s degree is very exciting. I would be pursuing it now (if it existed),” said Alex Pollock, who graduated in December from Sinclair’s UAS associate degree program.

The 24-year-old Piqua resident said he’s considering applying to an aviation bachelor’s degree program at a public university in Ohio, or to the University of North Dakota’s UAS program — one of two UAS bachelor’s degree programs in the country.

Sinclair officials say if the bill passes, they will look into the market demand, cost, accreditation and other factors associated with creating a bachelor’s degree in aviation or UAS. In total, that process could take more than two years.

“This legislation will allow more students to get more education for less cost,” said Sinclair President Steven Johnson. “Enabling community colleges to offer job-focused bachelor degrees will allow employers seeking to fill in-demand jobs access to the talent that they need.

“The aviation and UAS industries are growing ever more interconnected and will need tens of thousands of qualified workers over the coming decade. Our graduates would be well-positioned.”

The Ohio House and Senate likely will vote on Kasich’s proposals later this year.

Degree limits

By allowing community colleges to create four-year degree programs, Ohio would join the more than 20 states that already have such programs. However, the proposal would allow no more than 10 community college bachelor’s degree programs. The Ohio Department of Higher Education would have the final say on what programs get the green light.

The proposal also requires that community colleges don’t increase tuition charges for the four-year program. That would create a route that, in some cases, shaves more than half of the cost of a bachelor’s degree. For instance, Sinclair charges Montgomery County students $98 per credit hour. Whereas in-state Wright State University students pay $394 per credit hour.

A few officials said that just because 3+1 programs are created, that doesn’t mean some schools won’t throw roadblocks — given that universities could potentially lose enrollment.

To make sure community colleges aren’t encroaching on the role of universities, the state would only approve a bachelor’s degree program if nearby universities didn’t offer it.

“It should not be about competition between community colleges and universities — it should be about educating students and filling good-paying jobs. The governor’s administration is trying to solve an important workforce issue,” said state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg.

Two years ago, a bill that would have allowed community colleges to create bachelor’s degrees passed the Ohio House but didn’t move past the Senate. Chris Widener, a former state senator from Springfield, came out publicly against the bill prior to the Senate vote.

“I would be surprised if (the bill) got much push-back this time,” said Jack Hershey, president of the Ohio Community College Association.

The bill also would allow students to enroll at colleges and universities at a discounted price in 12 states through the Midwest Student Exchange Program. Although the bill doesn’t provide specifics for tuition savings, the program’s website touts large savings for students from other states — typically between $500 and $5,000 annually.

Here’s how the exchange works: Public institutions charge students from a member state no more than 150 percent of the in-state resident tuition rate for specific programs, while private institutions offer a 10 percent reduction on their rates.

Hershey said the bill also would prevent community colleges from going below a certain threshold for College Credit Plus pricing. In some instances, he said, community colleges have charged lower rates to certain high schools in an effort to get that high school to send students their way and not to a competing institution.

“I think (the proposals) are a sign of college affordability becoming more of a concern for students, parents and policymakers,” Hershey said. “Some people need different pathways. This package would reduce the cost of higher education, and hopefully the amount of loans students are taking out to pay for college.”

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