Dec. 3, 2007
By Linda Lockhart
At a conference last week, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut told Ohio University regional campus faculty members that he sees Ohio's community-centered regional campuses, community colleges and adult learning centers playing an integral role within the new University System of Ohio.
Speaking to some 80 faculty members from five regional campuses, Fingerhut said he agrees with Ohio's first chancellor who said you have to take higher education to the people, not expect them to come to higher education. At a lively event hosted by Ohio University-Southern, Fingerhut met faculty members individually prior to his address, which was followed by an open question and answer session.
"I think the regional campuses of the future are a truly exciting mix of the full spectrum of the education experience," Fingerhut said. "I see them as vibrant places where multiple institutions are meeting a variety of education needs for students at all levels.
"We have a very significant number of exceptional facilities that have the potential to expand the services in higher education," he added. "The campuses are extraordinary. Our challenge is to build momentum on these campuses and not just to meet demand, but to stimulate demand."
That is absolutely necessary if the new statewide system of higher education is to successfully meet the charge of Gov. Ted Strickland to increase the number of Ohioans with higher education degrees by 230,000 over the next decade.
"It's not going to happen on the main campuses," Fingerhut said of meeting the goal for growth. "It's going to happen on your (regional) campuses, on community college campuses, on satellite campuses. And no single school can do everything that higher education needs to do in Ohio."
The chancellor also knows it won't happen without changes and a strategic plan for growth, which is the foundation of the University System of Ohio 10-year Master Plan. The new system concept was introduced in August, with Fingerhut charged to deliver a completed plan by Strickland and the General Assembly by March 31.
Throughout November, the USO released drafts of four primary goals -- focusing on educational attainment, quality, affordability and economic leadership -- and proposed measurements for each. Fingerhut encouraged feedback through a master plan forum on the USO Web site, saying it is vital to get the measurements right. He said some adjustments had already been made as a result of the feedback process.
The chancellor said he has been impressed by the overwhelmingly positive reaction he has heard to the plan on his extensive travels throughout the state. He knows the message of change is not always easy, though.
"Some of the things we're asking can make you nervous, and some won't be the easiest things to do," Fingerhut told the faculty members. "This is not about dictating an approach, and it's not going to turn on a dime. The 10-year plan gives us time to do some trial and error. But we cannot hesitate. We have to jump into this and move forward."
He also is aware that the message to regional campuses is something they haven't heard previously. For example, the chancellor expects more programs to be offered on regional campuses, including bachelor's, master's and, if demand exists, doctoral programs.
"I realize some of the things I've talked about are a 180-degree turn from what you've heard in the past," he said. "In the past when programs were discussed, you've heard cut this, cut that, not add degrees or programs. But this (plan) is about growth."
The system's success also is dependent upon collaboration and cooperation between regional campuses, community colleges, adult learning centers and other satellite campuses.
Fingerhut said he has made it clear that despite demand for bachelor's degree programs, community colleges will not get into the bachelor's degree business. Instead, universities could meet that demand by offering bachelor's programs on community college campuses. On the other hand, if community colleges offer some certificates or associate's degree programs that aren't available on a regional campus, "invite them onto your campus," he said.
"I'm telling you, there will be bachelor's degrees offered on community college campuses, but not by community colleges," he said. "Someone will fill that gap created by demand, and if the state institutions don't, private institutions will be happy to do it."
The result of creating opportunities for students to attend multiple institutions on a single campus will be powerful. Fingerhut offered a scenario of a student attending Columbus State Community College to earn an associate's degree, then staying on at that campus while earning a bachelor's from Ohio University. "That would be one of the greatest deals in higher education," he said.
Fingerhut said he fully supports the continued role of regional campuses as deliverers of courses for first- and second-year college students who want to transfer to a main campus for additional years of a bachelor's or higher degree. But he recognizes there are other students who can't relocate and asserts there is a role for regional campuses to deliver education at all levels for those students, too.
Changes at the state level will facilitate a shift in the way Ohio's higher education system operates. For instance, recent legislation gives Fingerhut, rather than the nine regents, power to approve a new regional campus program. The process of getting a program request onto the chancellor's desk is under redesign, too. Fingerhut said this would make the approval and addition of programs more efficient.
"We must trust that Ohio University (for example) is not going to put something on my desk that does not live up to the quality of Ohio University," Fingerhut said. "I want people to know if we hold up a degree (from approval), it is because there is something really, really wrong."
Changes to the state's funding system for higher education will be coming, too, he said. Contrary to the way the current system works, Fingerhut said a funding system should be set up to support goals, not the other way around.
"We've been working on the goals and are now starting to look at the changes in the funding process that might support achieving those goals," he said.
However, some of the most difficult work needed to ensure the future of regional campuses is bright may need to take place in the campuses' own arenas.
"The major challenge (for regional campuses) is to assess what the potential is to meet all levels of educational need for all people served by the regional campus," the chancellor said. "In the past, we've had a view that we should limit what we offer, so changing to saying we should offer more is difficult."
And with this expanded view, he said, "We ask you to be honest about what the university can offer efficiently, and then do those things. And for those things the university can't do as well, let another institution do it."
Fingerhut believes the University System of Ohio is about the power of higher education in Ohio.
"Together, we hold the future of the state in our hands," he told faculty members. "We can either become a magnet for talent or slowly turn off the lights. Those in this room -- those who teach -- will be the magnets."