The ‘Five Percent Challenge’

Let me get right to the point: the cost of college tuition is spiraling out of control, and nothing short of Ohio’s future is at stake.

As the father of two kids, ages seven and nine, I join many parents and grandparents in their drop-jawed sticker shock at the cost of higher education, which has exploded more than 1,100 percent in the past 30 years.

That staggering financial burden has created a student loan crisis upwards of $1.2 billion that threatens to strangle our economy, forcing graduates into years of crippling debt and keeping many of them from starting an independent living.

The average Ohio college student enters the workforce nearly $30,000 in the red. Worse, a new report by the U.S. Department of Education finds Ohio’s public colleges are among the most costly to attend in the country, with Miami University topping the list. Four others rank in the top 25.

We can’t expect our state to have a highly educated workforce if the cost of that education makes it unattainable. It’s bad enough that a four-year degree now routinely takes five years or more, but it’s even more tragic that many students spend years in college only to leave with no degree at all. Something has to change.

Fortunately, Ohio’s academic leaders have responded to a bold plan offered by Governor John Kasich and the legislature to improve graduation and course completion rates by connecting performance to state funding. Despite that progress, student costs continue to rise.

With this in mind, earlier this year the Ohio Senate issued a “Five Percent Challenge,” asking Ohio’s public colleges and universities to reduce student costs by five percent for the next academic year. We believe this is a realistic goal, and the legislature stands ready to help them achieve it.

Many in the education community correctly argue that state funding for higher education has gone down in recent years in the face of an economic recession. Frankly, we’ve all had to cut back during that time. It’s just hard to contrast that spirit of sacrifice with stories of exorbitant administrative salaries, bloated payrolls, costly athletic programs, excessive building projects and a growing list of unnecessary academic courses on college campuses.

Parents should demand that our academic leaders get this spending under control and find a way to do more with less, just as they demand of their legislators. We required the five percent student cost reduction in the recent Senate-passed version of the state budget, but I’m encouraged that many of Ohio’s college and university leaders proactively responded to this challenge over the last several months. For example:

The University of Toledo signed a memorandum of understanding with three area community colleges, Owens State, Northwest State and Terra State, creating a consortium that aims to lower costs and improve the transition between secondary and higher education.

Wright State University is working to streamline its undergraduate credit load in addition to considering a five percent tuition discount for students who complete at least 15 credit hours.

Cleveland State University is giving discounts on tuition and books if students take a full course load, knowing that costs can be lowered as degree completion time is reduced.

Other universities are using software to help identify and support struggling students, working with high schools to get more kids college-ready, replacing costly paper textbooks with more affordable digital options, agreeing to cap four-year tuition rates at incoming freshmen levels and exploring campus efficiencies to reduce non-tuition fees, such as room and board.

We’re going to keep pushing for this kind of innovation. In exchange, I believe there’s a case to be made for increasing state funding for higher education as overall performance improves. In fact, in the Senate-passed version of the state budget, we made the largest state investment in SSI (state share of instruction) in higher education in eight years. As part of that budget, we also instituted a two-year freeze on tuition rate increases.

The bottom line, however, is simple: Ohio needs a more educated citizenry to survive and grow in the new economy, but our children won’t be able to afford it if we fail to get the cost of that education under control.

We’re all in this together, and our future depends on its success.

Sen. Keith Faber is the Ohio Senate President. To watch a video of Faber discussing the Senate’s Five Percent Challenge, go to