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A primer on the University System of Ohio

Sept. 5, 2007
By Mary Alice Casey

The University System of Ohio -- announced by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in early August -- will be the focus of important conversations at Ohio University and across the state in the coming months. With this in mind, Outlook offers this primer on the subject along with links to additional information.

Definition and goals

The state defines the University System of Ohio as a network of all Ohio public colleges and universities: 13 universities with 24 regional campuses, 23 two-year technical and community colleges, and a standalone medical school. Collectively, the institutions have an enrollment of some 470,000 students. 

Strickland has said the system will not be modeled after the public university systems of other states, but rather serve as a model for how to approach public higher education in the 21st century. On Aug. 2, the governor directed Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut to "manage the state's investments in higher education to build the University System of Ohio so that it ensures affordable, high-quality, higher-education opportunities for all Ohioans."

A master plan for the system is due to the Ohio General Assembly by March 31, 2008, although Fingerhut has said he wants to have a draft of the plan completed by the end of the calendar year.

Strickland and Fingerhut say a primary goal of the University System of Ohio will be to reduce competition and increase collaboration among the state's colleges and universities. The governor also wants to see an additional 230,000 Ohioans enrolled in college within the next decade as well as improved graduation rates.

"We're going to ask institutions to differentiate themselves and develop centers of excellence, so collectively across the state we will have everything our citizens need," Fingerhut told The Columbus Dispatch this summer. "Not everyone is going to grow an equal amount or specialize in the same things. The cornerstone of this is we can't achieve these goals if we're competing with each other."

Financial, research and scholarship opportunities

Formation of the state system came on the heels of a state commitment to higher education unprecedented in recent history. The state increased funding to universities by more than $340 million for the biennium that began July 1. That amounts to a 5.7 percent boost in fiscal 2008 and a 9.8 percent hike in fiscal 2009. In contrast, between 2001 and 2007, state funding for higher education fell 2.5 percent in Ohio. However, the increased funding comes with the requirement that institutions freeze tuition during fiscal 2008 and 2009 and produce efficiency savings of 1 percent in the first year and 3 percent in the second year to reinvest in high-priority areas.

"I have said very clearly to the universities and our colleges, the resources that have been provided to us ... should not be viewed as a thank-you note for past performance," Fingerhut told The Dispatch. "It should be viewed as an investment in a brand-new, world-class system of higher education."

Of the new funding, $150 million will be distributed through the Ohio Innovation Partnership. The initiative has two components: the Ohio Research Scholars Program ($50 million) and the Choose Ohio First Scholarships Program ($100 million).

Awards under the two programs -- aimed at recruiting students to Ohio's science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical programs -- will be made to institutions on a competitive basis under guidelines developed by Fingerhut. The Request for Proposals for the Choose Ohio First Scholarship will be sent out by Sept. 17. The Ohio Research Scholars RFP is to be sent out by Oct. 17. A state university or college may apply for awards under one or both programs and suggest initiatives to be carried out solely by that school or in collaboration with other public or private institutions of higher education or other public or nonpublic Ohio entities.

Carrying out the initiative

Fingerhut has been charged by Strickland to lead the University System of Ohio. Unlike the previous six chancellors, he is -- as a result of legislative action earlier this year -- the first to be appointed by the governor and serve as a member of the governor's cabinet.

Previously, Fingerhut served in the Ohio Senate (1991-93 and 1999-2006) and in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-94) as well as on the business faculty at Baldwin-Wallace College and as an adjunct faculty member in political science, law and management at Case Western Reserve University.

Fingerhut met Aug. 2 with college and university presidents to stress the need for their involvement. The outcome of the coming months' work, he said, will not be "a plan to plan." 

"We will put the tough issues on the table, and we will make decisions. As Gov. Strickland has directed, the master plan we will develop will cover a 10-year period. A university system -- and a state -- can be transformed in that period of time. We will establish clear benchmarks to measure our progress and describe in specific terms what Ohioans will have a right to expect from us at the end of a decade of growth and change."

Fingerhut said the plan will address both affordability and quality, offering recommendations on the role of state support, tuition, financial aid, scholarships and more. He stressed that the diversity of institutions across the state will be considered as officials seek to differentiate the missions of universities and build on centers of excellence.

The next steps 

President Roderick McDavis and Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl want Ohio University to be proactive in defining the university's place in the University System of Ohio. 

In an e-mail to faculty and staff Tuesday, McDavis and Krendl said, "Fortunately, all of the effort that faculty, staff and students put forth in the creation of the Vision OHIO Academic Plan puts us in good stead when it comes to defining our mission. However, some additional focused, consultative conversations must take place during the fall to refine our identity and clarify our centers of excellence. More information will be forthcoming about the nature and timing of those conversations."

McDavis noted that he and Krendl view the university system as an opportunity to build on Ohio University's established strengths, including academic quality and outreach to the region. "The state is willing to make increased investments in public institutions of higher education as a way to boost the economy of Ohio," McDavis said. "In our region, Ohio University is already doing much of the economic development and outreach that is expected from the university system."

Krendl believes formation of the university system will allow the university to leverage its uniqueness into a leadership position among Ohio higher education institutions. "We have one of the strongest track records in the state when it comes to being an institution of both excellence and access. It is clear from what Gov. Strickland and Chancellor Fingerhut have communicated that these characteristics along with economic development will define the University System of Ohio," Krendl said.

The Inter-University Council of college and university executive officers is expected to play an important role in encouraging meaningful cooperation between public institutions of higher education. This academic year, McDavis is chair of the IUC, Krendl heads the IUC's provost group and Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur leads the chief financial officer group. "Through our leadership roles in the IUC, Kathy, Bill and I will be able to have a significant influence in helping the state to develop strong mechanisms for collaboration," McDavis said.   

In addition to the coming months' work in refining Ohio University's identity and clarifying its centers of excellence, the university will develop its Ohio Innovation Partnership proposals. Over the summer, Krendl and Interim Vice President for Research Jim Rankin convened a group of faculty in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical disciplines for preliminary discussions aimed at developing strong Ohio University proposals for both the Ohio First Scholarships program and the Ohio Research Scholars program. Krendl described the conversations as fruitful. 

"There were a number of good ideas put forward during our discussion," she said. "But there were also many questions. Those questions cannot be resolved until we see the RFPs for each of the programs. But we've already started to lay the necessary groundwork to move quickly and effectively on the opportunities presented by the Ohio Innovation Partnership initiative."

McDavis and Krendl indicated that more conversations like the one that took place around the Ohio Innovation Partnership initiative will be pursued as the university seeks to define its place in the University System of Ohio.

"The first order of business is to get the quarter off to a good start," McDavis said. "Because the timeframe is tight, I anticipate beginning discussions on the university system within two weeks. In those discussions, Kathy and I will be relying heavily on the leadership of constituent senates, chairs and directors, deans and vice presidents to help make the case for Ohio University's role in the new landscape of Ohio higher education."

Updated at 9:05 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, to correct McDavis' IUC title to chair. The story originally referred to him as IUC's president, a position held by Bruce Johnson.

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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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