As expected, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved a 3.5 percent tuition and general fee increase in its spring meeting on Friday.
This raises full-time undergraduate tuition at OU from $9,870 to $10,215 per year. Room and board is also going up, to make the full annual cost of attending the university for a non-commuting undergraduate something on the order of $20,200 (not counting books and other various peripheral costs).
In justifying the tuition hike, OU officials cited the need to maintain and invest in academic quality, technology and student support services. Room and board also will be increasing.
For many students and their parents, however, the main effect of this increase will be transform an already unaffordable expense into one that's even more unaffordable. (Full disclosure: My wife and I have a senior daughter at OU, and have been helping her pay her way, even though she'll still have hefty student loans to pay off.)
For the many students and their families who depend on financial aid, that additional unaffordability likely will manifest itself in an extra year of student loan payments far in the future, or perhaps an extra $10 or so on each monthly payment. For others, it means a bite out of their retirement savings.
Make no mistake; the main culprit here is the state of Ohio, which has gradually shifted public college costs onto students and their families over the past decade. The state share of instruction for OU was 46 percent in 2001. Today it's 22 percent.
OU also is culpable in this state of affairs, however. They've made a conscious decision to raise tuition rather than cut back on services, programs and other budget items by the same amounts. To be fair, they have been cutting back in faculty, staff and services (including maintenance, as anyone who frequents campus buildings can attest to).
As has been the case since Manasseh Cutler strolled into southeast Ohio, however, it's always easier to pass the pain onto students and their families than to find corresponding cost savings elsewhere. After all, what's 3.5 percent among friends?
It's much easier to do this when students and their parents have no easy way of comparing OU's costs with other public four-year colleges and universities. If you go on Google and look around, it's really difficult to find data that compares the costs of four-year public colleges across the country. In fact, I failed utterly in this endeavor last week, though in the past I have found various data bases with this information.
Last week I finally did find one site – the U.S. Department of Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center – that had some pertinent lists on this topic. However, their lists are limited to sets of schools with the highest tuition costs and the lowest tuition costs. They don't display an overall list comparing all of the four-year public college tuition costs. So if your school is not at the extreme top or extreme bottom, those lists aren't much help.
So I called the U.S. Department of Education and asked "What the what? Why no overall list?" The helpful publicist called around and got back with me to confirm that a data specialist over "in that other building" would get out her spreadsheet program, crunch some numbers and put together an overall list… and just for me!
How cool is that? Little old me, a bumpkin editor in some back-water college town in Appalachian Ohio goosed the federal government into preparing a customized list comparing tuition for all 663 four-year public Title IX institutions in the country.
So what did I find?
I won't keep you waiting any longer. In comparing in-state average tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates in 2010-11 at public four-year schools (the most recent year for which they have the figures), the Department of Education placed Ohio University's main campus at number 96 out of 663 institutions, with $9,603. In terms of tuition costs, that put OU among the top 15 percent most expensive institutions on the list. (We can assume that with its latest tuition increase, OU probably still hovers near 96th on the list.)
Another way of looking at it, OU's main campus costs more to attend than 85 percent of the other four-year public colleges in the U.S.
At the top of the list is Oregon Health & Science University, with yearly tuition and fees of $16,395. Tied at the bottom of the list are the four U.S. military academies that don't charge anything.
The list is influenced (some would say skewed) by a number of factors, among them:
• Branch, regional, community and city colleges that offer four-year degrees are listed separately, and since they're usually a good deal cheaper than regular universities, they add a lot of numbers to the bottom half of the list. The bottom quarter of the list is dominated by these schools. (Interestingly, Pennsylvania State University's dozen or so branches all fall in the top 32 most expensive schools.)
• Different states provide different levels of help to their public colleges. This is a huge factor in determining where a school will fall on the cost list. If your state is as parsimonious as Ohio, then in order to compete with other comparable institutions, your university has no choice but to charge more for tuition.
• Colleges that really suck tend to be cheaper than quality academic institutions, though just like with wine, you can't always judge the quality by the cost.
However, the list includes many, many four-year schools comparable academically to OU (and Ohio's other main four-year public universities) that are a good deal cheaper.
The most expensive Ohio
public college is Miami in Oxford, at No. 17, charging $12,786 tuition and fees
per year, substantially more than OU's No. 96 placement with $9,603. (Again, these
numbers are for the 2010-11 academic year.)
EXAMPLES OF SCHOOLS cheaper than OU with their ranking and tuition and fee amount:
• University of Texas at Austin: 100th at $9,416.
• University of Akron main campus: 105th, $9,247.
• University of Wisconsin at Madison: 121st, $8,983.
• University of Arizona: 158th, $8,237.
• Oregon State University: 235th, $7,115.
• North Carolina State University: 297th, $6,527.
• Northern Arizona University: 346th, $6,134.
• Troy University: 378th, $5,860.
• West Virginia University: 422nd, $5406.
• Grambling State University: 567th, $4,428
• University of Hawaii, Maui campus: 652nd, $2,238.
• U.S. Air Force Academy: 660th, Zero.
Ohio public four-year colleges on the 663-school list include:
• Miami at Oxford, 17th, $12,786.
• University of Cincinnati, 84th, $10,065
• Bowling Green State University, 95th, $9,704.
• Ohio University, main campus, 96th, $9,603
• Ohio State University, main campus, 99th, $9,420.
• University of Akron, main campus, 105th, $9,247.
• Kent State University at Kent, 115th, $9,030.
• University of Toledo, 145th, $8,491.
• Wright State University, Dayton, 204th, $7,518.
• Youngstown State University, 222nd, $7,199.
• Shawnee State University, 294th, $6,546.
• Various branch campuses, $6,102 or lower, placing 353rd or lower. (OU's branches are $4,656, placing 533-537th.)
• Central State University, 412th, $5,480.
Next time you get in a discussion about the cost of attending Ohio University, don't talk about it without being aware of how OU (and the state of Ohio in general) compares in cost to other public colleges in the United States. It really puts the conversation in perspective.