SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- Wittenberg University President Baird Tipson Friday called for an Ohio Strategic Plan for the support of higher education. “The states, such as Georgia and North Carolina,” Tipson said, “that have been most successful in making the transition to a knowledge economy are those that years ago made a long-term commitment to fund higher education – as the path to build their economies.”
Tipson was one of four panelists speaking during “Come Back to Campus,” a legislators’ dialogue sponsored by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE). “A long-range funding plan would mean higher education would not be jerked around by boom and bust economies that we know are going to occur,” Tipson said. “We’ve got to find a way to preserve a stable funding base.”
Joining Tipson on the panel were: Rep. Merle Grace Kearns (72nd District), Sen. Tom Roberts (5th District) and Ned Sifferlen, president of Sinclair Community College. The discussion was moderated by Dan DiBiasio, president of Wilmington College. State Rep. Fred Strahorn in the audience agreed that higher education funding has been anything but stable. Over the past 10 years state support of public colleges and universities has decreased from 17 percent of Ohio’s total budget to 12 percent. Now with the state facing a $740 million deficit, higher education will lose more ground.
“When we had surpluses, the state did not invest in higher education,” Strahorn said. “When there were deficits, higher education was cut.”
State budget support was one of three critical issues that Tipson said can make Ohio an economic powerhouse again. Technology is the one of which Ohioans can already be proud, Tipson added. Far-sighted achievements like OhioLINK, which puts the resources of all-member libraries at the disposal of the others, has made Ohio the envy of many other states.
The “dark fiber” project is working to build a mega-infrastructure computer backbone that will benefit not just universities, but hospitals too. “That has the potential to put Ohio on the technology map, and that’s exactly where we need to be,” Tipson continued.
Access for all ethnic and economic groups to higher education is the third critical issue, according to Tipson. Only 21 percent of Ohioans hold a bachelor’s degree. As it effects the economy, Tipson said access is more important even than the Third Frontier/Knowledge Economy campaign of the Ohio Board of Regents.
“We independent colleges want to be part of the solution,” Tipson said. “I think we already are part of the solution. Our student populations are just as diverse – our parents, on the whole, are in the same economic situations as those sending their children to public institutions.”
Tipson stressed that collectively public and private colleges must find a way to preserve funding for Ohio to improve the number of educated citizens completing two-year, four-year and advanced degrees. Currently Ohio ranks 39th out of 50 states, and that ranking has remained stagnant for many years.
The discussion led to a consensus that the most likely way to get politicians to turn toward stable, effective funding of universities is to involve Ohio’s business sector. Jim Vangrov, former congressional director for the 3rd District, pointed out that the success of higher education systems in North Carolina and Georgia were both led by business leaders and economic motives. Larry Christman, director of the Ohio Federation of Independent Colleges (OFIC), agreed adding that tax reform for business and industry would be effective in getting business sector involvement.
Kearns closed the discussion by charging the college and university leaders representing the 24 SOCHE institutions to get in personal contact with their state representatives before the end of the weekend. “You need to keep up the dialog; that will be the best way to get the message out,” Kearns said.
• Book-Delivering Prof Named Ohio Professor of the Year
• Senior Class Selects Livestrong President & CEO Doug Ulman As 2011 Commencement Speaker
•Communication Program Honored Nationally With Top Award
• Wittenberg University Art Students Finalists For Scholarship Award