At a meeting of the Ohio University Board of Trustees in Chillicothe late last week, OU officials delved deeper into an ongoing discussion about ways the university might change its approach to tuition fees.
The major focus at the meeting was on the possibility of switching to a "guaranteed tuition" option, in which incoming freshmen could lock in an annual tuition amount that would not go up as long as they managed to matriculate in four years.
In a telephonic news conference after the Trustees meeting Friday, OU President Roderick McDavis noted that he and other administrators have already "started a conversation with the board about new ideas" on tuition, with the intent of "reining in large tuition increases" in the future.
The bottom line, university officials say, is keeping an OU diploma affordable for students whose families aren't wealthy, while also keeping the university afloat financially.
"All of us are now focused on affordability," McDavis explained.
At a board meeting in November, the Trustees were told by Stephen T. Golding, OU's vice president for finance and administration, that the university will have to change its business model, based on the recognition that it can't continue to rely so heavily on students' tuition payments to pay the bills. Like other public colleges in Ohio, OU faces both shrinking state subsidies, and a pool of potential students whose families are finding it increasingly difficult to pay for their time in college.
During Friday's news conference, Golding explained that OU officials are looking at the possibility of "providing a four-year, or 120-credit hour, guarantee to an entering freshman, such that the cost of their education… would not change for their undergraduate experience, as long as they completed their degree within a four-year period."
If a student did have to stay in school for more than four years, he said, he or she would be charged a higher tuition for the extra time, that would be the same as that paid by the "cohort" of students due to graduate immediately after the student's own graduating class.
McDavis acknowledged that the guaranteed tuition idea has pluses and minuses. Among the advantages, he said, is that OU believes the plan will help increase its graduation rates.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich's new proposed higher education budget would link state funding to graduation rates; in a story in the Columbus Dispatch Saturday, the paper listed the public universities who would be "winners" and "losers" under the proposed budget in 2014, based on graduation rates.
Out of 39 universities and medical schools, OU ranked 16th. The Dispatch calculated that it would see a 2.4 percent increase in state funding from 2013 to 2014 under Kasich's proposed funding plan.
Another advantage to a guaranteed-tuition system, according to Golding, is that it would give OU flexibility in how much it charged each new cohort of students, based on a variety of factors.
University officials stressed Friday that any change in tuition policy will have to be tied to an aggressive financial aid strategy to supplement lower-income students' financial resources, as well as through increased funding of scholarships.
McDavis emphasized that the discussion of guaranteed tuition is only an early step in the conversation that OU officials will need to have with their board and the university community about how to proceed.
"We simply had the conversation," he noted, and will continue to explore guaranteed tuition and other options at future board meetings.
Another option that was raised at the November board meeting was differential tuition. Taking this approach would mean that different majors would have different tuition price tags, based on factors such as how much it costs to operate the academic department, how high the student demand is for the major, and how high a salary degree-holders in the discipline can expect to earn after they graduate.
IN HIS REPORT to the trustees, McDavis touted a new book being published as a joint project by OU's University Communications and Marketing department (UCM) and the OU Press.
On Thursday, OU announced the publication of "Appalachia Rising: Stories of Hope and Achievement from Ohio's Appalachian Hills and Valleys."
The book was described in a news release as a showcase of "the relationship of the university with the surrounding region," which is based on an award-winning series of stories, and which "captures the essence of the university through the works and words of the people in and of the region – students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others involved in its support and revitalization."
"This is really a document, a book, that celebrates our region," McDavis said Friday. "This puts a human face on the university's many contributions to our region."
Board Chair Gene Harris, who is superintendent of the Columbus Public Schools, urged the university to make the book available in K-12 classrooms.
"This would be the kind of document that schoolchildren should see," Harris said.