Deecmber 13, 2016

State-wide budget cuts impact CSU


By Dan Menningen

Over the last 35 years, the cost of a college degree has risen more substantially than the inflation rate over the same time period, according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education. This rise in tuition has led to a rise in debt for students and their parents. In 2013, the national student debt total surpassed $1 trillion, higher than the national outstanding credit card debt ($857 billion in 2013), according to the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

These concerns along with others led the state of Ohio to take action against the rise in tuition of their public universities and what they can do to make them more efficient in the future.

In 2015, a tuition freeze was instated for undergraduate students in the state of Ohio by Governor John Kasich. Along with the tuition freeze, Governor Kasich established the Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education. This task force was built to review and recommend ways that state-sponsored schools, both four-year universities and two year community colleges, can educate students at an equal or higher level while decreasing their operation costs.

The goal of the tuition freeze and the task force is to combat the rise in college operating costs that were causing the rise in tuition which caused the rise in student debt, according to an executive summary from the Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education. In response to the task force, every university in the state had to come up with a plan to run a more efficient and successful school. 

Before the task force was established, Cleveland State University took measures into its own hands by establishing the Path to 2020 program, 17 interrelated projects with the goal of making Cleveland State University more cost-efficient.

“Path to 2020 was established in the summer of 2015, with the intent for the university to take a look at the cost to run the administrative support side (non-academic) and see if there were ways we could be more efficient,” Tim Long, one of the Path to 2020 program leaders says,

The task force asked all the four-year universities and two-year community colleges in Ohio to present a proposal to the task force in Columbus over the summer on how they were going to limit costs and asked the schools to formulate a five year plan.

“When the governor starting asking schools to become more efficient, we realized that Path to 2020 fit perfectly,” Long says. “We began with looking at the administrative side of the university to see if we could find inefficiencies.”

The administrative support side is made up of human resources, payroll and back office work of the university.
Within the first fiscal year, (June 30-July 1) Cleveland State found $3.5 million in determined inefficiencies. It redistributed that money into additional undergraduate scholarships, graduation incentive plans, student advising support and part-time instruction funding.

After finding the $3.5 million in the first year, Cleveland State set a yearly goal to reallocate $2 million from the budget each year, meaning that the university will reallocate $11.5 million dollars of the budget by 2021. The challenges will be maintaining the budget with the tuition freeze taking place without it impacting academics.

“We still have work to do in trimming the costs to meet our $2-million-a-year goal that we have put forth, but that will not hit our academics such as teaching and advising.,” Long said.

Cleveland State has made changes to help students graduate on time  well by lowering the number of credit hours needed to graduate from 128-120 and also instated a 12 hour credit ban, meaning students will pay the same amount of money to take 18 credit hours as they would to take 12 credit hours in a semester. This change will help get the student out of college with a four-year degree in four years.

“The best way to reduce your overall costs is to try to provide a platform that can get you in and out as quickly as we possibly can,” President Ronald M. Berkman told the student media during a Sept. 21 meeting.

Some of those methods include the addition of degree audits, better advising with degree maps and allowing students to schedule classes for semesters in the future.

Path to 2020 will continue to find efficiencies in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year with the same challenge it has had on their hands for the last two years.

“We believe the governor will continue the state-mandated tuition freeze for the next two fiscal years.” Berkman said and Long confirmed in separate interviews.
Cleveland State along with the other public schools in Ohio will also face new a challenge with the decrease in high school graduates leading to lower freshman enrollment numbers.

“Everyone is doing the same thing that we are doing,” Long says. “If they are not trying to do things to attract students, they are doing things to trim cost or raise money to get scholarship aid and no one really knows what the end game will be for higher education. It may look a lot different in 15 or 20 years, for various reasons, but it will always be beneficial to have a college degree.”





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