A Column By Ohio House Higher Education Chairman Mike Duffey
Since being named Chairman of the Higher Education subcommittee for the Ohio House, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on my own experiences as a student and why education needs to change today.
I graduated with honors from Thomas Worthington High School and there was never any question I would attend a four-year university. It was simply what nearly all of my classmates were expected to do. And I did so by attending an academically rigorous, but expensive out-of-state “school up north.”
I could argue that this instinct to attend a four-year university was “right” for me, and it truly was a wonderful experience, but there are weaknesses to that way of thinking. People I knew weren’t looking at colleges for affordability; they were looking at selectivity and national rankings. And once they visited a campus… it often became about the dorms, the food, the athletics, the culture and the recreation center.
And that is where I think so many students today are silently led into a meandering sense of what they “ought” to do, rather than a focused decision based on the information that really matters. It should be about value – the value of a rigorous education delivered at a reasonable price and the salary that commands.
Value is where community colleges truly excel. At roughly half the cost of a four year university for an equal number of credits, the only thing missing is the traditional university experience: freshman year in a dorm, the campus atmosphere, the athletics, etc. And yes, that does have huge, even if intangible, value.
But when I read the tea leaves for higher education, we are increasingly seeing paths to enjoy the best of both worlds: K-12 students earning college credits, abbreviated expenditures (and time) in college, accelerated pathways to grad degrees. This compression also speeds entry into the workforce.
All of this – a blend of credit seeking K-12 students, community-to-university students, and traditional community college students – is poised to make community colleges quite cool. And I think that’s great. Saving money and time should be cool, especially among those who pay the costs.
So I hope you feel a sense of pride this year when you hear state legislators talking about college credit in high school or even an ambitious (and needed) 5% reduction in total costs to Ohio students this biennium. Or about improved, more focused “formative” counseling that goes beyond our traditional expectations. In many ways, we are taking our cues from community colleges where getting people jobs has always been the top priority.
In the legislature, we have backed up these pathways with statutory law requiring universities to accept these credits. And laws requiring universities to accept 2-year college students. More links, more pathways, more access to college, more competition, lower prices, lower costs and lower debt.
Community colleges are a critical pipeline to drive down the cost of four year programs in Ohio, while also – we hope – being a pathway for skilled trades and vocational education – in-demand jobs that provide a stable career and high earning potential for students who don’t want or need to attend a four year program.
If the legislature’s focus were ever just “getting students a college degree,” it should be gone. College degrees and certificates are a means to an end – that being a career, self reliance and prosperity. So I want to thank you for all you’re already doing and invite you to tell us how we can do more.