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Regents address ways for more Ohioans to attain college degrees

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Tomorrow’s college students might see the cost of their tuition jacked up if they dawdle too long en route to a degree.

That was one of 20 recommendations an Ohio Board of Regents’ task force unveiled Tuesday to bolster the number of college graduates statewide.

The far-ranging Complete College Ohio report tackled everything from advising (there isn’t enough) to defining college readiness (there’s no standard definition) as solutions to increase the number of graduates statewide.

“Urgent action is needed,” according to the report. “If our state is unable to meet business and industry’s growing demand for individuals with postsecondary education credentials and the ability to compete globally, Ohio will be left behind.”

Currently less than half of the students who enroll in college in Ohio graduate. Many who do get degrees also incur debt — an average of almost $29,000 last year, about 8 percent above the national debt load, according to the nonprofit Project on Student Debt.

Yet Ohio colleges and universities need to increase the number of degrees they confer by 10 percent each year to meet work force needs for 2018, according to the Complete College Ohio report.

That is a challenge, but, “One of the things that is clear is that new and effective interventions are going on all around the state,” said University of Akron Provost Mike Sherman, one of 37 legislators and college leaders on the panel. “This is going to create a great opportunity for us to learn from each other.”

Only one recommendation is required of all tax-supported universities in Ohio: that they create a College Completion Plan to move students through the pipeline efficiently en route to degrees.

UA, for example, already has identified three pathways to student success: “preparatory” students, who are referred to community colleges for their initial work; “emergent” students, who might need extra academic help at UA; and “college-ready” students, who are ready for university classes.

The more prepared students are for college, the more likely they are to complete their degree requirements in a timely way.

“It is absolutely imperative that we have more access to college, but it doesn’t do much good to come for a year and leave,” said Complete College Ohio task force member Thomas Chema, president of the private Hiram College.

“The focus needs to be on students being successful and one measure — not the only one — is graduation,” he said.

The report also recommends that institutions consider granting an “industry recognized work force certificate as an interim credential” when students complete 30 hours of coursework, and providing a formal guarantee of tuition as an incentive for timely completion.

Some private colleges in Ohio, among them Baldwin-Wallace University in Berea, guarantee that students can get out in four years if they stick with their educational plan.

The panel also advocates restructuring the State Share of Instruction to reward schools for degree completions instead of enrollment. Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is overseeing a Regents task force that’s looking at ways to do that.

Gee’s group will report to Regents’ Chancellor Jim Petro by Thanksgiving, but legislative approval could be required.

In the meantime, the Complete College report recommends that students who overstay their welcome at public institutions — racking up more credits than they need for a degree — be penalized with out-of-state tuition rates. Those are typically twice the in-state rate.

Carol Biliczky can be reached at or 330-996-3729.