Ohio task force finds mixed progress on college cost-cutting

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s 14 public universities have identified a combined $1.2 billion in savings and new resources over the next five years – but more work is needed to rein in college costs, according to a report issued Thursday.

The eight-member Governor’s Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency was created two years ago by Republican Gov. John Kasich to bring input from business leaders to higher education. Its evaluation looked at progress toward six high-impact recommendations it made in 2015.

The panel found overall progress, but said too few schools have identified how their newfound savings and resources will improve college affordability and education quality.

“The core principle is that students must benefit,” said Pamela Morris, a task force member. “I can’t emphasize this point enough.”

Tuition and fees at Ohio’s four-year public universities rank 34th highest among the 50 states, according to the College Board. That’s down from 49th a decade ago.

Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio representing universities, said the task force evaluation was based on information submitted in August – and further progress has since been made.

“If I have a disappointment it’s the lack of appreciation for the quality of higher education in this state and what that does for the state’s economy,” he said. “We’re not engaged in a race to the bottom and the myth of spiraling college costs in Ohio is just that, a myth.”

Johnson said tuition in Ohio has been growing at a rate slower than inflation for the past decade, despite state support that lags the national average by $1,900 a student.

“If we were at the state average in state subsidy, we could afford to be below the national average in tuition,” he said.

The governor’s task force has urged universities to look systemically at costs and spending. It recommended setting five-year goals, conducting comprehensive cost and operational reviews, boosting digital textbook capabilities and offering financial literacy education to students.

Most of the institutions had made at least some progress on most, if not all, of the recommendations as of August, according to the task force’s findings.

The evaluation released Thursday found promising cost-saving ideas, such as digital textbook initiatives, are often springing up in isolation around Ohio – with a single institution or a single professor, for example – and urged universities to extend those good ideas across and among institutions.

Task force members said boards of trustees need to provide “active, hands-on leadership” to see that good ideas take hold.

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