OU distinguished economics professor Richard Vedder said he can offer only "informed speculation" on what Kasich and Republicans in the Ohio Legislature will propose for higher education, but that he's certain Kasich's governing style will represent a big change from one-term Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
"John Kasich is a different kind of politician than we usually have in the state. And this is not a Republican or Democrat position," said Vedder, who serves as director of the national Center for College Affordability and Productivity. "My guess is he will be a little more confrontational and willing to rock the boat. He's free to do so with the position of the budget..."
Kasich has promised to lower taxes, sharply reduce government and sell state assets, rather than raise taxes, to eliminate a shortfall in the next two-year state budget that's projected to be as high as $8 billion. Critics argue that this deficit is so massive (representing 16 percent of the current general fund spending) that it can't be addressed purely on the spending side of the equation, without cutting deeply into services that Ohioans take for granted, including higher education.
Indeed, Vedder estimated that under new Gov. Kasich higher education can expect to withstand cuts in the area of 10 to 20 percent, with students expected to shoulder more expenses. This comes on the heels of repeated bouts of budget cutting and layoffs at many state colleges and universities, including Ohio University.
"Kasich will reduce blanket university funding drastically," Vedder predicted. "I expect the overall amount to take a tumble." Kasich will utilize more merit-based initiatives, Vedder hypothesized, and carry through with plans to privatize the Ohio Department of Development.
Vedder said he expects a "lively four years," but added, "I don't think that's all bad; I think Ohio needs someone who's forceful and an agent of change."
OU associate professor Steve Hays said that under the new governor the university can expect further cuts in its budget, which he said is already suffering due to careless spending by OU administrators.
"I think everyone assumes we'll see deep cuts, or at least not see any more state support than under Strickland," said Hays, who has been active in the OU budget debate.
He expressed dissatisfaction with OU President Roderick McDavis' management of the budget.
"We've seen absolutely nothing done in terms of identification of specific priorities," Hays said. "I would very much like it if we could make wise budget choices, and I wish the (OU) administration well in doing that, but I don't think that's likely to happen at all..." He cited excessive athletics funding, the turbo-prop plane that administrators use, and the university's fund-raising budget as examples of OU's irresponsible spending. This could pose grave concerns for the educational quality offered at the university, he added.
"We will have to be extremely skillful or lucky not to cause enrollment decreases. If we cut course offerings and people say, 'It's just not worth it to come here,' and we lose a few hundred students... it could cause an avalanche effect," he said.
Hays added, "I hope we'll be limited to the $15 million due to the loss of stimulus money," but predicted that OU may need to cut even more from the budget for the 2011-2012 school year.
Rob Evans, press secretary for the Ohio Board of Regents, said he's confident that the changeover in power in the governor's office and Ohio House of Representatives will not pose serious problems for colleges and universities in Ohio, because higher education is a priority for both political parties.
"It seemed like a big deal on Tuesday (election day), but looking back at the past four years puts it into context," Evans said. "When you look back on the last four years, every accomplishment we've made... could not have happened without both sides of the aisle."
He noted that without agreement on both sides, nothing gets done and that bipartisanship "keeps us focused on evidence-based policy changes."
Both parties perceive higher education as vital in keeping Ohio competitive in terms of jobs and attracting graduates, Evans added.
"Higher education is a shared priority of government leaders from both sides of the aisle, precisely because it's essential to the state," Evans said. "It's not really a partisan issue, so we're confident we're going to be able to make accomplishments as we have in the last four years."
Becky Watts, chief of staff for OU President Roderick McDavis, said that it's too soon to say what effect the transfer of power will have on OU specifically.
"It's too difficult to speculate on what decisions our leaders in Columbus will make, because there's too many variables," Watts explained. "We look forward to working with Gov. Kasich and all the leaders in Columbus."
Watts shared Evans' stated sentiment that higher education will remain a top priority in Ohio.
"We do see this as an opportunity for us to continue to demonstrate the values that our higher education provides..." Watts said.
In a Nov. 7 Columbus Dispatch story, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut said colleges and universities are valuable to improving the state's economy.
"Higher education must help drive Ohio's economic resurgence," said Fingerhut. "I believe we have made good progress, but much remains to be done. I look forward to working with the governor-elect on this critical part of Ohio's future."