The Ohio University Board of Trustees gave the university’s administration the green light to move forward with exploring implementation of a guaranteed tuition model, which administrators say will provide more financial predictability for students and their families and make OU competitive in tuition rates among public higher education institutions in Ohio.

The university has already identified OU employees to serve on an implementation team for the new tuition model pending passage of the proposal by the state legislature. No public university in the state currently has such a tuition model. In order for OU to adopt a guaranteed tuition model, the legislature and Gov. John Kasich would have to sign off on the measure.

As The Messenger previously reported, the university has been exploring the tuition model for about a year that would lock incoming freshmen into a set cost of tuition, room and board, and most course fees over a four-year period. OU’s administration has said the model would allow OU students and their families to know how much a four-year degree at the university would cost without worrying about potential rate increases.

According to OU President Roderick McDavis, the measure to create such a program is included as an amendment in the state’s budget bill. While OU has taken the initiative to research the new tuition model, legislation would allow the model to be adopted by any public college or university in the state.

“The language is permissive so it would be for all public universities in the state of Ohio that were interested in developing a guaranteed tuition plan,” McDavis said following Friday’s OU Board of Trustees meeting on the Athens campus.

McDavis said a lot of other college presidents and provosts have expressed support for the idea, adding that he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the legislation will pass in the statehouse.

OU’s Board asked the administration to explore other tuition models in April 2012 as it was deemed that the university’s current business model isn’t sustainable. OU Board of Trustees Chairwoman Sandra Anderson said that the university can no longer rely on the state of Ohio to provide 50 percent of the university’s budget. McDavis said the State Share of Instruction is now about 25 percent of OU’s budget.

“The path that we all have been walking down (toward implementation of a guaranteed tuition model) started with the board’s commitment to access and affordability for our students and a concern about the debt that families were facing,” Anderson said. “We were also concerned about the sustainability of the university’s business model and wanted to challenge the administration to think outside the box on other things we could do on creating a more sustainable business model and something that is more predictable and transparent to our prospective students and their families. This is one tool, not the silver bullet.”

McDavis said that during his nine years as president of the university, there have only been a couple of years under Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration that tuition increases have not been requested of OU’s board.

“The concept behind this is not to say no to a tuition increase,” he said. “The concept behind it is to control that tuition increase over a period of years and our hope would be that if public institutions continue with an incremental increase that our compounded increase would be less than the four-year tuition that other universities would charge.”

OU administrators have also proposed pairing the guaranteed tuition model with a $75 million investment in student scholarships to help lower student debt.

OU Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit said the rise in cost for each cohort (new class of incoming students) under the proposed guaranteed tuition model would be based on the Consumer Price Index and the tuition cap set by the state. For example, if the Consumer Price Index went up 3 percent and the state set a tuition increase cap of 2 percent, Benoit said the university could choose to raise the tuition price by up to 5 percent for the next cohort. She added that OU’s Board of Trustees would approve the cohort rate.

According to Benoit, there has been some concern expressed about the university setting cohort rates as high as it wants.

“We obviously can’t do that because we have to remain competitive in our market,” Benoit said, noting that the tuition rate has to stay low enough so that students can afford to attend Ohio University while still covering the costs to operate the university.

The following people have been invited to serve on an implementation team to consider the policies, procedures and process necessary to implement the guaranteed tuition program: Deb Benton, registrar; Sherry Downs, bursar; Craig Cornell, enrollment management; Valerie Miller, financial aid; Peter Trentacoste, residential life; Don Pendergast, information technology; Liz Bennett, institutional research; Renea Morris, university communications; Kris Sano, controller; Chad Mitchell, budget; John Day, provost’s office; Ann Paulins, Patton College of Education; Sean Osterman, Russ College of Engineering; Austin LaForest, student senate representative; Beth Quitslund, faculty senate representative.

The university is aiming to have the guaranteed tuition model in place by fall semester 2015, if not sooner.

“Our vision is to be the nation’s best transformative learning community …the board has challenged us to come up with a way to make that possible …as we control costs, as we can give students more scholarships, as we fix our academic buildings, as we fix our residential facilities, that’s what the board is expecting of us,” McDavis said.

sbrumfield@athensmessenger.com; Twitter @SaraBmessenger.

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