Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Regents Discuss Ohio Public Institution Facilities

This morning the Ohio Board of Regents discussed the condition and funding of the public institutions' facilities and buildings. The major question at hand focused on the stability and capacity of the facility and technology infrastructure and whether they are sufficient to support the governor's proposed increase of 230,000 students.

The identification of buildings and systems in need of repair, restoration, and technology varies depending upon enrollments and ongoing construction funded by other sources. The questions for the state include: Where will the funding come from—taxpayers, fundraising, or nowhere? The chancellor stated that some state higher education institutions think funding should come from taxpayers through the legislature’s capital budget. Others prefer considerable autonomy and will assume the responsibility through private fundraising and the use of endowment funds.

Already an overwhelming share of improvement costs is funded by the state, and the amount needed continually increases on campuses with continual growth. The board discussed how this could pose a problem as Ohio's budget becomes tighter. The Ohio State University, Ohio's largest institution, has combated this issue with the creation of an endowment to pay for future renewal and replacement costs, an action most independent colleges already practice. Independent colleges also use current revenues to support repair and restoration, as they have no reason to count on the state to cover these expenses. This alleviates many issues caused by delayed building repair, decreasing the urgency and possibility of a major structural capital-budget gap.

Regents also discussed the contrast in age of public higher education buildings. Every two years, the board calculates the age of the instructional and general portion of public higher education's facilities. The table below, released at the meeting, outlines the results.

Under 40 Years Old
Technical college - 96.9%
State comm. college - 84.7%
Community college - 83.7%
University main - 71.7%
Regional campus - 62.6%

State inst. average - 73.4%
Over 40 Years Old
Technical college - 3.1%
State comm. college - 15.3%
Community college - 16.3%
University main - 28.3%
Regional campus - 37.4%

State inst. average - 26.6%

The increased age of regional campuses buildings could reflect main campus growth. Regional campus growth has tapered in recent years, leaving little need for newer buildings. Or, could it mean that regional campuses in Ohio receive less attention than their main campus counterparts?

A fair question for OBR and the chancellor is whether one solution to the state’s public sector building squeeze is partnerships. Innovative community colleges currently host independent college programs on their campuses, and vice versa. The state could save large sums by not constructing new buildings, and instead, encouraging public campuses to create collaborative programs at independent colleges, where buildings are raised at no cost to taxpayers.

Would taxpayers support saving money by moving public classes to private colleges? Or would students and taxpayers benefit by establishing new articulation agreements, allowing the free transfer of courses by public college students who take a few classes of their choice at local independent colleges? What about agreements between nonprofit Ohio colleges who offer on-line courses and their public sector counterparts allowing students to take credits through our robust, nonprofit on-line sector? Now that would be a fresh take on an old problem.

—Dustin Holfinger