A U.S. Department of Education survey has found that Ohio’s public colleges are among the most expensive for students nationwide. On the survey’s “net price” rankings, Miami University is listed as No. 2 most expensive in the nation at $22,303 per year. Ohio State is No. 10 at $18,253, Ohio University is No. 13 at $17,702 and the University of Cincinnati is No. 14 at $17,644.
The measurement is taken from full-time, in-state undergraduate students. It includes tuition, fees, books and supplies, and the weighted average for room and board after aid from local, state and federal governments, scholarships and institutional grants is subtracted.
Universities around the region were quick to blame the Ohio state government for high costs.
“The state gives less support to schools per student than other states in the country,” says Claire Wagner, a spokesperson for Miami University. “That’s historically been the case here.”
Miami University has been seeing a decrease in taxpayer support since as early as 1991, according to Miami University data. Back then, Miami University received 36.2 percent of its general education budget from taxpayer subsidies. That number dropped to 15.1 percent in the 2007 fiscal year. It saw a temporary bump to 15.8 percent in the 2009 fiscal year under former Gov. Ted Strickland, but it has since dropped to 12.4 percent.
Caroline Miller, the senior associate vice president of enrollment at the University of Cincinnati, echoes Wagner’s concerns over state funding, but she adds one more factor.
“The amount of subsidies that the state provides is on the low end of states nationally, and Ohio doesn’t have a major grant program like the HOPE Grant in Georgia,” she says.
The HOPE Grant is a program that gives students in Georgia the opportunity to have any public, technical college in Georgia mostly to fully paid. The grant covers tuition, approved fees and up to $100 a quarter for books. Ohio has no such program.
The statements from university officials match the reality of education funding, according to a report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, an independent organization that connects and assists colleges and universities nationwide.
Between 2006 and 2011, higher education funding per full-time student dropped by a national average of 12.5 percent. In the same time period, funding in Ohio dropped by 18.1 percent, nearly 50 percent more than the national average.
Wagner also claims that schools might be calculating their overall costs differently.
“That gives us a little bit of flexibility in saying, well, we might have come up less if we estimated differently,” she says.
Despite the relatively high costs for students, both universities are still planning tuition increases to combat rising education costs and falling taxpayer subsidies. The University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees on March 27 approved a 3.5 percent increase in tuition for the 2012-2013 school year. Miami University also plans to raise tuition by 3.5 percent in the 2012-2013 school year.
Still, the University of Cincinnati has been making various efforts to cut costs, and it has been making budget cuts in recent years. In 2011, the University of Cincinnati announced that it would be eliminating its computer science program in the fall of 2012. All students currently in the program will be allowed to finish their studies, but no new applicants will be accepted for the 2012 school year and beyond.
“We are working very hard to run things more efficiently,” Miller says.
The university has tried to automate processes that used to require paid personnel. One example is work done at the registrar’s office, which now relies on computer systems that allow students to enter their own information without the help of anyone else. Another example is parking garages, which were formerly to be staffed by attendants but now rely on automated swipe card systems.
Miami University has taken similar cost-saving measures. The school has made $40 million in budget cuts in the past three years, and improvements in efficiency are planned.
Wagner says the school has taken advantage of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, which represents 13 of Ohio’s public universities, to make more bulk purchases. That has brought down per-unit prices and the overall costs for supplies rather than relying on numerous vendors for cleaning goods and other supplies.
While both universities work to bridge the funding gaps, Miller and Wagner advise students to try to bring down costs on their ends as well. The increasing overall cost of college can be partially offset by limiting debt and streamlining coursework. Miller advises students to be “good stewards.”
“There’s an expression in the business: Live like a student when you are one, so you don’t have to when you graduate,” she says. She says students should be “good consumers” of aid sources and take more steps to avoid accepting unnecessary loans. She also advises students to do more to avoid withdrawing for a course, which can sometimes result in paying for the same course twice if the class is mandatory to graduate.
While Wagner acknowledges the high costs, she also points out that students are getting more value per dollar at Miami University than students in other universities.
“Our average time to graduate is 3.7 years, and we have the highest graduation rate among the public schools in Ohio and among the top 10, sometimes among the top five, depending on the year, in the nation,” she says.
Additionally, a recent survey from SmartMoney magazine found that Miami University ranks ninth among 50 universities nationwide when it comes to return in tuition investment. Miami University also has the 34th highest earnings potential among public universities nationwide, according to a survey from PayScale.com, a global compensation data website.
The offices of Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio Board of Regents, which oversees colleges and universities in Ohio, were contacted with questions about the rising costs of Ohio colleges and to see if there are any plans for increased state aid, but neither provided a response by the time this story went to print.