Chancellor speaks on the new Ohio education ideas

“Last week, the idea of combining the University of Akron with Cleveland State University surfaced. Following this, the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Eric Fingerhut, talked with the Buchtelite about the possibilities of merging Ohio’s higher education institutions.”

Last week, the idea of combining the University of Akron with Cleveland State University surfaced. Following this, the Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, Eric Fingerhut, talked with the Buchtelite about the possibilities of merging Ohio’s higher education institutions.

Fingerhut is in charge of the Ohio Univeristy System. This is a new plan for higher education put into place by Gov. Ted Strickland.

If you could mold the public university system of Ohio to your own ideas without being responsible to anyone else, what would you do? What does your perfect university system entail?

Well, we would want it to be a world-class quality, highly affordable, flexible system in which enables Ohioans to stay here, a system that makes sure they get all the opportunities that they need to succeed in life, but that also attracts talented people from around the world.

What are the sacrifices that need to be made by everyone involved in the process?

Well, I think we have to think about how we can all work together. We have 13 universities, and what one of the core concepts is that no single institution can provide everything that Ohioans need, but that collectively, all of our institutions can. We’re asking them to differentiate their missions from each other, so instead of 13 similar universities, we will have 13 specialized universities.

He also said Each school will have to sacrifice a little bit of themselves in order to make this possible, and through compromise, create this system.

What changes would professors endure through this integration?

Every school has to provide the basic education, but when we talk about building centers of excellence, we will maintain the leadership of the university. There is going to have to be new faculty, new facilities, however….what we need to do is that if we want to be world class and come up, that does mean making choices. We have to do what’s best for the university system. We’re hoping that the universities will make the choices to improve on their own, We’re not planning to dictate the university, we’re hoping that they will continue in their own areas of growth.

How do we transform our good system into a great system?

Well, I think part of it’s happening already. The call to each university to develop its future is already having a very positive effect across the state. As you know, the general assembly and the governor have a big increase in funding that enable us to freeze tuition for two years, and also enable us to invest in new faculty members, so we are trying to attract students into the science and engineering fields.

We are developing a comprehensive master plan, due by March 31, which will set very specific goals, improving affordability.

What type of responses have you been receiving from universities involved in this system?

Change is always difficult, the overall goal is that we’re trying to reach, some of the concern will go away once they see that we’re not trying to cut things, we’re trying to improve and give them more opportunities for excellence.

If this merger were to take place, what benefits would it have for the students?

What we’re trying to do is find ways to make the university have the biggest possible impact on the region it has. Students need to be in an area with economic opportunity. In the center of every fast-growing region is a great university. How do we build that kind of great university in northeast Ohio? How do we create more opportunities for students? Obviously, working together between universities is something we need to look at.

Would tuition go up or down?

We’re trying to lower tuition all across the state. We want to become more efficient, but we’re
trying to grow, you have to take that into consideration as well.

Would open enrollment still be available?

We have an absolute commitment that every Ohioan will have access to higher education. The question for each person is, what institution would be the best for each student? Sometimes starting at a university is not where you have your chance for success. We’re making sure that each student has the opportunity to succeed, and the opportunity to attend a community college in the area.

There’s not one blanket across-the-board policy, each school will be able to decide. Community college is a very important option for students. Many students don’t have that option, we’re looking to make that option; available all across the state. Open enrollment has existed only because the students have nowhere to go. Sometimes you can have dual enrollment? You have to make sure that you do what’s right for you.

What is the ideal setting for Neoucom?

We’re committed to maintaining Neoucom’s mission. We’re looking to collaborate with all systems in the area to figure out how to best carry out this mission.

Right. The idea is not about saving money. How do you improve, is more of the question we’re asking here.

It’s too early to know, but we know that we’ll need to invest more. The legislature started already, and giving us enough funding to freeze tuition this year.

We’re about to release a $150 million program to hire more professors, as well.

Kent State is a well-known liberal arts school. Akron is a good engineering school. Why not combine them? What does CSU have to offer that makes it more desirable to merge with Akron, rather than Kent?

Again, we’re looking at many different strategies. There is a unique role for urban metro research university, especially in communities across northeast Ohio-when there are industries that need support across northeast Ohio. The reason you think about working together, there is a great deal of similarity in areas like engineering.

The main issue here is that the economy is clear so that northeast Ohio is one region that has one economy that is competing globally. We increasingly need to think about how we work together. For those of us in higher education, we need to think about how we can work together.

I have noticed that you did not attend a university in Ohio; what were your reasons at the time? Are you attempting to create a university system that you would attend?

One of the things that motivates me and gives me passion is exactly what you are saying. I was the first in my family to attend college, but no one encouraged me to stay in Ohio and go to school. I want to create a university system that people in communities will encourage their young people to stay at, and that will be world class enough that students will not want to look outside of Ohio.