Monday, May 5, 2008

Innovative Ways of Education for Southeastern Ohio

Hocking College, Nelsonville

Nina Wieczorek

Handshaking, smalltalk and some signatures. It took the Higher Education Consortium of Southern Ohio (HECSO) ten minutes to sign an agreement that is part of a master plan aimed at improving higher education in the region within the next decade.

At the moment, the consortium consists of Shawnee State University, Southern State Community College, Rio Grande Community College and Ohio University. Along with Ohio Board of Regents chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut the colleges' representantatives decided to cooperate in finding new solutions for Ohio's higher education.

Shawnee State President Dr. Rita Rice Morris explains why Hocking College is not part of the agreement.

But this is not a closed club. New partners such as Hocking College are welcome. "We are a group that started together. We expect to add other institutions to this consortium,“ said Shawnee's president Dr. Rita Rice Morris. "One of the most important things we learned very early on is assessing the region. And we have in fact talked about Hocking College and some of the other OU campuses. There is no reason of exclusion -- this is the first step.“

The 10-year-master plan

Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut points out the goals of the consortium.

The agreement forms part of a 10-year-master plan which has three main goals:
- Increase the number of students who graduate,
- Make these graduates staying in Ohio and
- Attract more talented people to Ohio.

The plan's goals are to have more people graduating, to keep them in Ohio and to attract students from other states.

Bachelors Degrees

The master plan notes that about 38,000 students received this degree in 2006; by 2017, the goal is 52,000. And while nearly 63% of the graduates stay in the state for another three years, by 2017 the master plan is to raise the number to 67%.
Also up would be the number of people coming to Ohio for college and university education. Currently, about 6,000 more people with bachelors' degrees leave the state than enter it each year. In 9 years, the plan calls for turning that around. In 2017, the Consortium wants to have 5,000 more Bachelor's degree holders entering Ohio than leaving it.

Rio Grande Community College president Dr. Herman Koby talks about the positive economic effect for the region through these reforms.

How to do it
So, how are they planning to achieve these goals? There are several innovations planned, including:
- Creating a low-cost network of campuses and
- The Seniors to Sophomores Program.

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut highlights two main points of the master plan.

The network: Closer and cheaper
No Ohioan should have to travel more than 30 miles to a campus where he or she can get an associate's and bachelor's degree. Fingerhut said "because of distance and other reasons in southern Ohio, raising the educational attainment level has challenges that are different than exist in other parts of our state.“
In order to realize this idea regional university campuses and community colleges will be working together. For example a student at one campus could get a bachelor's degree from a different institution. This is the so-called University Center Model.

Cutting Costs

The plan also involves reducing the cost of a university education to make it more attractive to young people. According to the master plan, tuition and fees at a university main campus in Ohio average $8,500 per year, at a university regional campus about $5,000 and at a state community college nearly $3,500.
So, a student who spends his first two years on a state college campus and the last two years on a university main campus would save around $10,000.

The Seniors to Sophomores Program: High school and University at the same time

While doing their last year in high school students can already take college courses and so get a whole year of academic credit without having to pay for it. They could get their high school diploma and at the same time they would have already finished their freshman year. To do that, students must fulfill the following requirements:
- Passing the Ohio Graduation Test,
- Completing Algebra II or the equivalent with at least a C,
- Completing three years of high school English with at least a C and
- Achieve a 'college ready' at the College's Placement Center Assessment.

Ohio's poor educational situation
And this plan couldn't come too soon. In a statewide comparison Ohio has no outstanding grades. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest data from 2006 shows only 23% of Ohioans age 25 and over have completed a bachelor's degree, while the nationwide average is 27%. Ohio is ranked 39th in the nation. The leading three are the District of Columbia (nearly 46%), Massachusetts (37%) and Maryland (around 35%).
The number of Ohioans completing high school (aged 25 years and older) is a little higher; Ohio is in the middle - 24th place - with more than 86% of its people having a high school degree. The U.S. average is around 84%. The leading three here are Minnesota (nearly 91%), Utah and Wyoming (both around 90%).
But the plan gives hope for the region. As Dr. Herman Koby from Rio Grande Community College points out: "Let’s assume that we raise the educational level of southeastern Ohio. Let’s say that that attracts more companies and more jobs then in general. We will raise the economic level of the area and that’s the long term goal.“

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