Presented with support from:

GAR Foundation

By WKSU's Julie Grant

Monday, February 27, 2006

Leaders at Ohio's public colleges and universities have been at odds with legislative priorities for more than a decade. State funding has dropped and that's inspired many schools to start collaborating regionally. As part of the WKSU series "Beyond the Limits: The Regional View," we look at how that's changing schools and the view of higher education...

     


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Hiram College President Tom Chema speaks about regional cooperation
(J.Grant)


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Dr.Christopher Woolverton gives a tour of the Northeast Ohio Consortium for Biopreparedness, a Center housed at Kent State
(Gary Harwood)


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MUO President Lloyd Jacobs and UT President Dan Johnson are combining their institutions
(University of Toledo)

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There's been talk about merging the University of Toledo and the Medical College of Ohio for a long time. But this year, it looks like it's actually happening. MUO President Lloyd Jacobs will become President of the combined institution. He says the time has come, in part, because a state commission on higher education and the economy has recommended that schools start working together.

JACOBS...A GO IT ALONE, SORT OF, GO IT BY YOURSELF, DO IT BY YOURSELF ATTITUDE IS NOT GOING TO BE SUCCESSFUL. IT HASN'T BEEN SUCCESSFUL HISTORICALLY, AND I'M CONVINCED THAT'S EVEN MORE TRUE FOR THE FUTURE.

Both Jacobs and current University of Toledo President Dan Johnson expect the cooperation to save money at the management level.

JOHNSON...YOU HAVE TWO HUMAN RESOURCE DEPARTMENTS, YOU HAVE TWO PURCHASING DEPARTMENTS, YOU HAVE TWO POLICE DEPARTMENTS, YOU HAVE TWO OF MOST OF THE SUPPORTING SERVICES. CLEARLY, THERE IS, WE BELIEVE, PERHAPS AT THE MANAGEMENT LEVEL, SOME REAL ECONOMIES THERE.

The two Toledo presidents also believe the merger will improve the quality of their programs. By combining forces they jump in the rankings among research institutions. That helps attract high caliber professors and students. The two schools also expect to eliminate duplication in programs. Both currently have PhD programs in the life sciences. These are the kinds of changes lawmakers have asked to see from colleges and universities. When the president of Hiram College is asked how well Ohio's schools have done eliminating duplication, Tom Chema responds this way:

CHEMA...POORLY. BARELY BEGUN TO SCRATCH THAT SURFACE. BUT I THINK LEADERSHIP AT THE COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY LEVEL IN NORTHEAST OHIO TODAY GETS IT, AND I THINK THERE'S A BEGINNING OF THAT. HISTORICALLY, I DON'T THINK WE'VE DONE A GOOD JOB OF THAT AT ALL.

Republican Governor Jim Rhodes set up the public system of higher education in the 1960s with an eye toward accessibility and affordability. Under his plan, the cost of a college education was split evenly between families and the state. Today, the state pays less than a third. Rhodes also wanted every potential student to have a college or university within thirty miles. Chema calls it the peanut butter theory.

CHEMA...YOU SPREAD THAT PEANUT BUTTER AROUND, YOU DON'T CONCENTRATE IT ANYWHERE, AND ONE OF THE RESULTS, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP THAT DOESN'T VALUE HIGHER ED, IS THAT YOU END UP NOT ADEQUATELY FUNDING ANYBODY.

Republican leaders in the legislature say more among their ranks are starting to understand that there's a need to better fund higher education. But House Speaker John Husted says the colleges and universities need to show that the money is being well spent.

HUSTED...IT'S GOING TO HAVE TO BE A TWO WAY STREET. THE STATE'S GOING TO HAVE TO CONTINUE TO PRIORITIZE MORE RESOURCES, BUT THE UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES ARE GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE MORE DIFFICULT DECISIONS ABOUT HOW THEIR GOING TO BECOME EFFICIENT.

Some schools are starting to audit each of their programs, and many are now collaborating to create new offerings. There is a new Masters Degree in Public Health that's a collaboration of six universities in eastern Ohio. A consortium of schools in the Northeastern region have joined together to create a Biopreparedness Center at Kent State, and all of Ohio's colleges and universities combined their library collections into an online library borrowing system.

SOUND...IMAGINE A LIBRARY THAT IS EQUIVALENT TO THE MATERIALS OF THE BEST RESEARCH LIBRARY IN THE WORLD IS ACCESSIBLE IN ALL 88 OHIO COUNTIES AND IS OPEN 24 HOURS A DAY. THIS IS OHIOLINK.

The cooperative effort has increased the resources available to Ohio students, professors, and researchers, and it's become a national model. University of Akron Provost Beth Stroble says the schools are forced to collaborate on these programs.

STROBLE...I WOULD SAY THAT IF THEY'RE NOT A RESPONSE TO REDUCED FUNDING, THEY'RE IN RESPONSE TO A RECOGNITION THAT THERE WOULD NEVER BE FUNDING FOR THOSE PROGRAMS TO RESIDE TOTALLY ON ONE CAMPUS.

The most historic example of regional cooperation in higher education could be NEOUCOM, The Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine. President Lois Nora says fifty years ago, it was tough to find a physician in the region. Youngstown State, Kent State, and the University of Akron each had plans to build a medical school, but instead they collaborated to create one jointly.

NORA...GROUPS OF PEOPLE CAME TOGETHER, THEY RECOGNIZED THAT IT WOULD NOT BE COST EFFECTIVE TO HAVE MEDICAL SCHOOLS ON EACH OF THOSE CAMPUSES. AND IN FACT A NUMBER OF PEOPLE VERY IMPORTANT IN THE STATE LEGISLATURE AND COMMUNITY LEADERS ACTUALLY BROUGHT PEOPLE TOGETHER AND SAID YOU NEED TO WORK IT OUT, WE NEED TO LOOK AT A DIFFERENT MODEL.

NEOUCOM today is a freestanding medical school that is a consortium of the three universities. But leaders in higher education say collaborations alone will not solve their problem of under funding, and increasing needs to hike tuitions. Garry Walters is a vice chancellor at the Ohio Board of Regents, he says places like Stanford University, Austin, Texas, and the Research Triangle in North Carolina have a long and strong history of investing in higher education, and the economies reflect that. But he says Ohio is only just waking up to the importance of funding colleges and universities.

WALTERS...I WOULDN'T EXPECT THAT COLLABORATION AT THE REGIONAL LEVEL COULD OFFSET A RELATIVELY LOW SUPPORT FOR HIGHER EDUCATION IN OHIO. YOU CAN'T SOLVE THAT PROBLEM THROUGH REORGANIZATION. I THINK YOU CAN BE MORE EFFECTIVE ON THE BASE THAT YOU HAVE BY COLLABORATION, BUT IT ALONE CAN'T CHANGE THE BASIC FUNDING.

Private institutions say the decline in state funding for public colleges and universities has also hurt them. Hiram College President Tom Chema says it's increased the competition for the region's private sector resources.

CHEMA...WE'VE ALWAYS COMPETED FOR STUDENTS, BUT IT IS ONLY SINCE THE LEGISLATURE HAS FAILED TO ADEQUATELY FUND THE PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION THAT WE PRIVATES HAVE HAD TO COMPETE WITH THEM FOR DOLLARS. BUT WE'RE NOW OUT THERE COMPETING WITH THEM FOR GRANTS FROM FOUNDATIONS AND CORPORATIONS AND HIGH NET WORTH INDIVIDUALS.

The future does not lie in increased competition among schools, according to Medical College of Ohio President Lloyd Jacobs. But he says regionalism is also not a panacea.

JACOBS...THERE ARE DOWNSIDES TO REGIONALISM. ONE CAN BECOME A MIDWESTERN CHAUVINIST OR I SUPPOSE EVEN A NORTHWEST OHIO CHAUVINIST AND I WOULD NOT SUPPORT THAT. I THINK THE CONCEPT IS BREAKING DOWN OF COMMUNICATION BARRIERS, GETTING RID OF SORT OF A SILO MENTALITY. AND THERE'S NO VALUE IN CREATING A LARGER SILO THAT HAPPENS TO INCLUDE A GEOGRAPHIC REGION, IN MY OPINION.

But, Jacobs looks at the merger of his medical college with the University of Toledo as part of a trend in the whole culture toward cooperation and collaboration.