Strickland brings together college info

Prospective students now have a "one-stop shop" Web site for information on Ohio’s universities, two-year colleges and adult career centers, the first piece of Gov. Ted Strickland’s new University System of Ohio.

"This is the first time we have brought together information on all the institutions of higher learning in Ohio," commented Strickland at the Aug. 2 signing of the new initiative.

The governor has also directed Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut to draft a 10-year plan that will make higher education more affordable and accessible.

"This is not a change in governance" of Ohio’s 13 public universities and 23 two-year colleges, Fingerhut explained.

The University System of Ohio "is not just a name change," either, he added, but an effort to support what each institution does best and open the doors to as many students as possible.

"Collaboration, rather than competition, will lead us to where we want to go," Strickland said.

"No single institution can provide everything, but collectively they all can," Fingerhut agreed.

Strickland was successful earlier this year in having the chancellor’s position made part of his cabinet, increasing the state budget for higher education and providing incentives for university’s to freeze their tuitions for two years in exchange for funding increases.

That came after 10 years of yearly tuition hikes of 9 percent, the governor pointed out.

He is looking to the 10-year plan to increase efficiency in operations that can reduce expenses and further hold the line on the skyrocketing cost of a college education.

The web site, www.universitysystem.ohio. gov, will raise the profile of the institutions within and outside of  the state, Fingerhut said. "It will increase the likelihood that they will find the program that is right for them, when they don’t even know all the options."

The site lists all of the institutions, and offers a map of their locations. In addition to providing general information about the campuses, links to their own web sites are included for more detailed information.

Facts and figures on scholarships and other types of financial assistance are available on the site.

Fingerhut said he has been talking to college presidents and financial officers, and they are on board with the University System and are open to ideas that could be put into a master plan.

Some of those ideas, such as group purchasing, would require legislative action, the chancellor acknowledged.

Fingerhut envisioned that the master plan would "dramatically advance" online education and distance learning, and he expects increased efficiency will come as much from employing technology as other means.

He doesn’t foresee chopping campus offerings, but strengthening the ones already in place.

Strickland offered assurances that this would not be a new bureaucracy or "a heavy-handed way to impose solutions that are not embraced."

While efficiency will be one benchmark, quality will be another, according to Fingerhut.

"The students will not profit from a system that is low-cost if it is low- quality."

About 470,000 students are enrolled in Ohio’s public colleges and universities, making up 80 percent of the total enrollment, officials noted.

The University System will "create a new Ohio birthright, access to an affordable, world-class system that will benefit every Ohioan," Strickland said.

Fingerhut hopes the information on the web site will also draw in students from surrounding states, making Ohio "a magnet for excellence."

Other states have university systems, but Strickland said his administrators sought to create something unique for Ohio.

Fingerhut sees the Buckeye State as a leader, not a follower. "A year from now everybody could be circulating Ohio’s master plan."

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