By Laura Yates
Students exchanged their ideas, hopes and concerns about Ohio's higher education future with Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut when he visited the Athens campus for two days this week.
Fingerhut came to discuss the University System of Ohio, the state's strategic plan for higher education that calls for graduating more students, keeping more graduates in Ohio and attracting more out-of-state students. One of his key goals was to gain the student perspective.
Student media members met with Fingerhut Wednesday evening, and Thursday he toured campus with student tour guides and student media. Afterward, he met with a mix of students in a roundtable discussion. Throughout the visit, he remained open to answering questions that came his way.
"It was really interesting to talk to someone involved in the decision-making process," said senior astrophysics major Jess Wilhelm, one of 13 students in the roundtable. He questioned Fingerhut on the finer details of long-term tuition control and state funding for higher education.
"I've been following the progression of the University System for a while, and I'm not completely satisfied with the financial security," Wilhelm said. "I'd like to see further commitment to funding."
Fingerhut was frank about funding issues, stressing Gov. Ted Strickland's dedication to higher education but admitting that it would take 10 years under the plan before Ohio would reach the national average for state funding per student.
"Unlike the federal government, we can't just print money," Fingerhut joked.
Students also asked the chancellor to clarify the plan's call for "centers of excellence" programs at each of Ohio's higher education institutions.
Student Senate President Tim Vonville asked if less-renowned programs would be cut.
"Yes and no," Fingerhut said. "We are going around looking for strong programs to build up, not poor ones to get rid of. But in order to build and maintain excellence, schools have to make choices."
Senior journalism major Callie Broomfield, a student senator at-large, asked if funding would affect the number of excellence centers and enrollment.
"Universities will be funded based on their individual goals, and it is up to each university to define its goals and programs of excellence," Fingerhut said, adding that some schools might choose not to increase enrollment.
Other issues on students' minds were Ohio University's character and calendar.
Vonville emphasized to Fingerhut the importance of maintaining the diversity and character of Ohio University, which prides itself on its liberal arts education. Fingerhut doesn't think the plan, or its center of excellence initiatives, will change that.
"Colleges are places to experience a diverse education," he said, "but (diversity) and centers of excellence are not incompatible."
Other students debated the merits of an academic calendar based on quarters verses semesters, with Fingerhut leaning strongly for a unified semester system. He believes it will facilitate credit transfer and make it easier for students to attend more than one institution.
Overall, Fingerhut hopes to see increased quality and affordability of Ohio's higher education leading to more graduates who stay in the state, which in turn will strengthen Ohio.
"If we graduate more people and link them to jobs, those people are going to pay taxes. In (that way), we create our own revenue stream."
Laura Yates is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.