Ohio capitol money background

(The Center Square) – As Ohio lawmakers return from spring break, one of the biggest issues remaining is state spending on one of the largest expense areas remaining in the budget debate: higher education.

The Buckeye Institute, a research and education think tank, believes the state should continue building on past allocations to bring higher education more in line with the workforce and provide more support for community colleges.

“Deliberations over Ohio’s biennial operating budget are well underway, and the higher education portion of the budget remains one of the largest areas of spending,” Greg Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute, wrote in a memo. “Unfortunately, taxpayer dollars are not being used as effectively as they should, and lawmakers need to build upon their past efforts and more appropriately align higher education spending to better prepare Ohio’s future workforce.”

Lawson’s thoughts center around the state’s community colleges and preparing the more than 180,000 students in those schools for work immediately at good paying jobs with industry partnerships.

According to Lawson, community colleges often provide more bang for the buck but receive less than $500 million of the $2 billion the state spends.

“In every state budget, lawmakers are tasked with ensuring taxpayer dollars are used effectively to fund the state’s priorities, which in the case of higher education means educating Ohio’s students so they can find good paying jobs in Ohio,” Lawson wrote. “By this criteria, Ohio’s higher education budget is falling short.”

While budget issues are one concern, access to financial aid also plays a role in reducing community college opportunities for low-income students, Lawson said. Ohio offers Ohio College Opportunity Grants for low-income students attending community college, but state law restricts that money from going to students when a Pell Grant covers anything beyond the cost of tuition.

That, Lawson said, means the affordability of community colleges makes nearly every low-income student ineligible for money to help cover other costs.

“Unfortunately, this Pell-first requirement ignores the myriad of additional costs that are a barrier to lower-income students pursing associate degrees,” Lawson wrote.

Two Cleveland-area community colleges, along with Cleveland State University, received a total of $8 million a little more than a year ago to collaborate on workforce development projects. What the state calls its RAPIDS program works through colleges and universities, community colleges and technical schools to provide a more skilled workforce.

“The RAPIDS program awards offer a unique opportunity for Ohio’s postsecondary education institutions and employers to help address local workforce needs,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said at the time of the award. “Students are able to gain access to top-notch equipment that helps better prepare them for available jobs.”

Regional Editor

An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.