July 23, 2016

Partly sunny

Barriers to higher education are financial, not geographical

Staff Columnist

The long-awaited Medina County University Center is open and it surely will be a success. That was never the question.

The question always has been: Is building a new college campus, when taxpayers are tapped out and Ohio’s budget is tight, a responsible thing to do?

Under Gov. Bob Taft and previous state legislatures, Ohio simultaneously under-funded higher education and lifted tuition caps. The great big sucking sound that followed came from boards of trustees making up the lack of funding through the wallets and school loans of Ohio families.

In June, state Rep. Bill Batchelder, R-Medina, spoke to the price of college.

“Since 1990, the Consumer Price Index, which is how we measure inflation, has increased 53 percent,” he said in a Gazette story. “During that same time, the cost of higher education in Ohio increased 96 percent. The disparity in those numbers is wrong. It’s morally wrong.”

Gov. Ted Strickland and the current legislature have made higher education a higher priority in the state budget. Chancellor Eric Fingerhut has been preaching a message of eliminating costly duplication of services that waste precious higher education tax and tuition dollars.

Instead, we build a $9.5 million campus in the heart of Medina County, where, according to the county’s own Economic Development Corp., we already enjoyed “easy access to world-class universities.” The university center is a photocopy of existing nearby facilities taxpayers have bought and continue to pay for. It was a major muscle-flexing exercise by the business community, which convinced local, state and federal lawmakers entrusted with your purse strings that taxpayers should help fund the educational needs of their employees.

It’s not hard to rationalize the university center project. Education is a good thing. Economic development is a good thing. Close-to-home is a good thing. But in the overall scheme of things, adding another mouth to feed in Ohio’s higher education system may not be. As Batchelder suggested, the cost of college is a moral issue. Is shaving a few minutes off “easy access to world-class universities” a moral imperative? That’s debatable.

The barriers to higher education in Ohio are financial, not geographical. We have done working families no great service by making college closer physically, but further away financially, by building a new campus and assuming its upkeep.

Imagine instead the impact of investing $9.5 million in tuition reimbursement for students who stay in Medina County or stay in Ohio to work or start a business. Imagine the impact of that on middle-class families and on the economy.

You have gained a university center. I trust it will be a success — as popular wants often are, compared to practical needs — and I hope you make good use of it.

But here is what you give up:

– You give up the right to complain about the cozy relationship between business and government, in which corporations treat taxpayers like ATMs.

– You give up the right to complain if you are not interested in the sorts of classes corporations tell the university center to offer.

– You give up the right to complain government is too big and too expensive, that it duplicates services, that it dabbles in things better left to the private sector.

– You give up the right to complain about the cost of higher education in Ohio. You give up the right to complain if you think your taxes are too high.

– You give up the right to complain about the increased traffic and development this likely will bring to rural Medina County, where the university center was unwisely located.

– You do have the right to remain silent. After all, it’s a done deal.

Gladden may be contacted at gladden@ohio.net or 330-721-4052.