By Casey S. Elliott
Saying the Ohio Board of Regents strives to balance the cost of a college degree against investments in quality, Chancellor Eric Fingerhut stated Thursday that he does not plan to delay a decision on a fee to help pay for a new Student Information System and network upgrade at Ohio University.
The student fee, which would not exceed $25 a quarter, would begin in the fall if the board approves Ohio University's request. Because all students will pay the fee, the board will have to approve it as an exception to the tuition and fee caps in place at the state level.
During a meeting Thursday in which Fingerhut spoke to Ohio University student leaders via videoconference, the chancellor said he would carefully consider student opinion before making his decision. He also said the benefits of a new system for students would be a factor.
"We have done literally everything we can think of to keep costs down ... it has been a high priority for us," Fingerhut said. "At the same time, we have to balance that against quality. We're not trying to build the cheapest university system in the nation. We are trying to build the best value for our students, which is quality and price together.
"With investments like this, which go to the quality of the experience of the student body, the ability to move around the (university) system freely is a very important consideration," he said.
The current SIS is 16 years old, and the company maintaining it will cease support of the system in June 2010.
The first phase of the upgrade will be supported by $28.3 million in bonds. General fund budget reallocations will support half of the annual debt service, while the university proposes to support the rest with the new fee.
Ohio University Chief Information Officer Brice Bible, who also spoke to the students gathered at Copeland Hall, said students will be the biggest beneficiaries of the new system, with upgrades that will give them 24-hour access to class registration and bill-paying functions, among other improvements. Also, the upgrades would allow for more seamless transition of students between Ohio institutions -- something that is difficult to accomplish now with the current system, he said.
Bible said the new student system is estimated to last a minimum of 15 years, while the bond repayment period is slated for 10 years. Ohio University plans to issue the bonds in mid-May.
Student Senate and Graduate Student Senate representatives reiterated to Fingerhut that they plan to hold referendums in mid-May on the fee. They asked Fingerhut if he would delay his decision until after their vote.
Students added they had not received consensus from members of the student body on the fee, and that is why they believed student votes should be considered before a decision is made.
Fingerhut said an e-mail from the students alerting him to their concerns prompted Thursday's videoconference.
Moreover, he said that Board of Regents policy gives parties two weeks to submit their feedback before he makes his decision. The Ohio University Board of Trustees approved the fee on April 24. Public comment on the fee can be submitted to the Board of Regents through May 8, he said.
Still, Student Senate Vice President Sally Neidhard added that students are concerned that they don't know enough about the benefits of a new system to support the fee.
Bible noted that the university is planning to do more communication about the fee and that open forums have been scheduled to collect input and explain the new system's advantages. The forums will be held May 5 and May 12, and will be Web streamed as well, he said.