By Linda Lockhart
Too many of Ohio's best and brightest leave the state after graduation from high school or college, according to Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is organizing Ohio's education leaders to talk about solutions. The latest conversation took place Wednesday at Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.
During the summit, college presidents and regional business leaders from the Appalachian counties of Ohio worked to devise strategies to combat the state's "brain drain." The summit was the fifth of six such forums that Brown initiated across the state.
Sharing ideas and best practices for preparing students from preschool through college for the 21st century, attendees stressed the need for better communication and closer collaboration between educational institutions, including the 10 colleges and universities represented.
Better use of technology and ways to collectively represent all educational opportunities in the region were among suggestions the group brought forward.
"Something is happening in Ohio that the country could learn from," Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis said about the meetings. "Higher education in Ohio since Governor Strickland has been elected has been seen as part of the solution to the (economic) problem, rather than as part of the problem."
The presidents emphasized two key elements that will be necessary for offering education that creates a thriving Ohio workforce: flexibility and access to financial aid.
"The reality is, in the developing workforce students need the ability to stop out," said Rita Rice Morris, president of Shawnee State University, meaning that many grants do not provide students the opportunities to attend college intermittently while they work.
"That's the bottom line. Financial aid remains a challenge," McDavis said, "especially in southeastern Ohio."
During a discussion about making it easier for students to transfer seamlessly from one Ohio college or university to another -- especially from two-year institutions to four-year institutions -- the group discussed ideas such as hotlines, publications and Web sites that could facilitate the process.
Conversations also addressed ways to maximize the opportunities created by federal and state legislation passed last summer that upped veterans' education benefits and gave in-state tuition to out-of-state vets. As a result, plans are under way to initiate further information sessions on the topic, possibly through a teleconference that could include Brown, Strickland and the presidents.
The day wrapped with a session on strengthening coordination among higher education, regional businesses and community partners. Attendees heard firsthand the issues facing employers who are hiring recent college graduates.
Terry Marovich, director of human resources at Athens biotechnology company Diagnostic Hybrids, said often graduates have technical knowledge but lack some practical skills -- particularly financial and emotional preparedness. She'd like to see higher education round out its offerings.
"Competency is just one part," she said.
The regional forums resulted from a first-of-its-kind meeting of Ohio college presidents, which Brown convened last April in Washington, D.C. Forty-six of Ohio's college and university presidents attended.
Gabrielle Johnston contributed to this story.