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Cleveland Plain Dealer
Ohio colleges among most expensive in U.S.

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Ohio has some of the most unaffordable colleges in the United States, and a coalition of school officials is calling on lawmakers and universities to make education more affordable.

The Higher Education Compact and Philanthropy Ohio held a press conference in Columbus featuring public policy officials, professors and representatives from education organizations in Cleveland, Akron, Dayton and Cincinnati. The compact is a collaborative partnership of the city of Cleveland, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, 17 colleges and universities, and more than 50 community organizations.

The partners released a policy paper on college affordability.

Two-thirds of Ohio's jobs will require post-secondary credentials by 2020, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, but the Lumina Foundation reports that only 43.2 percent of working-age Ohio adults have a post-secondary degree or certificate, leaving a significant skills gap, officials said.

The cost of college keeps many students from lower-income backgrounds from seeking education beyond high school, officials said.

They said Ohio ranks 45th out of 50 states related to college affordability because:

The state under-invests in higher education, allocating 7 percent of state and federal expenditures toward higher education, as compared to an average of 10 percent in other states.

Ohio's public colleges compensated for the reduced state funding by increasing tuition. From 1996 to 2006, four-year universities increased tuition by 9 percent annually, resulting in a 2006 tuition rate that was 47 percent higher than the national average. Colleges have had a state-imposed tuition freeze the last two years.

Need-based financial aid, through the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, was reduced from $223 million in 2007-08 to $69 million in 2011-12.

The educators are asking lawmakers to:

Increase need-based grant dollars over the next four years to $223 million. Proposed funding for each of the next two fiscal years is around $100 million.

Tie any new increase in grant dollars to completion-based incentives that encourage students to graduate in four years.

Create and fund a new financial aid program for "cost of attendance" expenses, such as tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and miscellaneous personal expenses.

Work with colleges to advocate for federal financial assistance programs and tax incentives for students pursuing any credential with workplace value, including and especially short-term certificates.

Work with the Governor's Executive Workforce Board to design and implement an employer-based incentive pilot program to incentivize employers to assist their employees financially in earning postsecondary credentials.

The educators are asking colleges to:

Urge institutions to create embedded short-term and one-year certificates within associate and bachelor's degrees.

Establish "transfer centers" on community college campuses to help ensure seamless transition to a university.

Continue and expand partnerships with community colleges to increase the number of students participating in 2+2 pathways and to create "academies" whereby students can enroll at a community college while simultaneously being admitted to a four-year institution.

Experiment with "free to finish" programs for students who are in good standing and have degree work appropriate for in-demand workforce areas.

Establish college-sponsored "emergency funds" that can be accessed by students to address financial barriers that keep them from finishing school.

Ensure that students who transfer have access to the same financial aid opportunities as students who directly enroll as freshmen.

Read this and other articles at the Cleveland Plain Dealer

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