Sept. 27, 2007
By Linda Lockhart | Photos by Rick Fatica
With a 10-year master plan for the University System of Ohio still being drafted, specifics are not yet clear, but Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut said Wednesday that actions already under way are a "jump start" toward the system's success.
Speaking at a news conference after his address on the Athens campus, Fingerhut cited a two-year tuition freeze at Ohio public colleges and universities and the analysis taking place at individual institutions as beneficial first steps.
Fingerhut said the need for discussion on many items the plan will address has long been recognized but not realized. The master plan's deadlines -- a draft is expected by Dec. 31, and a final is due to state legislators by March 31 -- serve as a call to action. The plan's benchmarks and continual progress will span a 10-year period, however, the steps taken in these first two years are significant, he said.
Noting that among goals for the new system are increased access to and affordability of higher education in Ohio, Fingerhut explained in the news conference that the state must look at funding the whole system in its entirety, not simply address specific issues such as financial aid or tuition. To do that, he said, the plan must describe "an exciting vision of what we're going to do to turn Ohio around. It must be about the vision and the strategies."
Both Fingerhut and President Roderick McDavis stressed that the plan is still in the development stages and that all state institutions of higher education have been invited to be part of the discussion. Fingerhut also noted that the metrics of success will be different for different institutions.
In response to specific questions about whether the plan would lead to a sharing of curriculum, services and staff by multiple institutions, Fingerhut said it may include all of those things, but those decisions haven't yet been made. The focus, he said, is to find a way in which the entire state can benefit from sharing in the excellence developed by any single institution.
As an example, he cited Belmont Technical College's program on historic building preservation, considered one of the best in the country. The question, he said, is how other universities and colleges in the state can benefit from that area of excellence. This example echoed one of Fingerhut's statements during his presentation: "All of our schools belong to all of the citizens of Ohio, and we want all Ohioans to know what opportunities exist for them across the system, not just in the schools closest to their home."
Fingerhut spoke enthusiastically at the news conference about regional campuses as centers for "vastly expanded offerings" in education within the next few years.
"These are places of incredibly underutilized potential," he said. "We think these ... should have multiple uses and be used by multiple institutions." During his presentation, he noted that the new system will require that all two-year associate degree programs in Ohio be fully transferable to four-year institutions.
During the public presentation, McDavis embraced the changes taking place as a result of the new system. Placing the 21st century shift in higher education in a historical context, he called this change "an opportunity to shape another new frontier."