By George Mauzy
Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut was on hand to witness the official creation of the Higher Education Consortium of Southern Ohio on Thursday afternoon in Baker University Center.
Ohio University's Chillicothe and Southern campuses along with Rio Grande Community College, Shawnee State University and Southern State Community College joined in the consortium's formal agreement, which focuses on making higher education more accessible and easing residents' transitions between institutions. The institutions, which have worked together on projects in the past, now will work in a more formalized way to set and attain specific goals contributing to educational attainment.
The consortium was formed after Fingerhut asked the leaders of higher education institutions in a 15-county region in southern Ohio to find ways to support the University System of Ohio's goal of expanding college enrollment, improving graduation rates and expanding the impact of higher education on economic development. The 15 counties: Adams, Athens, Brown, Clinton, Fayette, Gallia, Highland, Hocking, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Ross, Scioto and Vinton.
"This is an exciting moment for me because the spirit of collaboration that you see here is the underlying basis of the entire University System of Ohio and our strategic plan," said Fingerhut, who was in Athens for two days to meet with Ohio University students. "The governor asked me to build a university system that is one of the greatest in the world and one that will provide educational opportunities for all of our citizens. We need to do that collaboratively.
"Raising the educational attainment level in Southern Ohio has challenges that are different than other parts of the state, but these institutions at the table know the answers and have the wisdom and resources to get the job done."
Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis, Rio Grande Community College President Herman Koby, Shawnee State University President Rita Rice Morris and Southern State Community College President Sherry Stout signed a memorandum of understanding to officially create the new consortium.
"We will be using the guidelines from the new USO plan to find ways to better address the higher education needs of this region and be more efficient and effective in doing so," Rice Morris said. "The consortium's first steps will be to develop measurable goals for higher education needs in southern Ohio, identify an institution to take the lead in channeling our collective resources and develop an operational plan within a few months."
Rice Morris added that although the consortium has only four institutions initially, more will be invited to join as plans are further defined.
"We are excited at Ohio University to be part of the consortium," McDavis said. "This is part and parcel to what we are all about as an education partner in southern Ohio. By working with our colleagues at other Southeast Ohio institutions, we will create opportunities for more Ohioans to obtain degrees at every level."
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