New view of public education

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COLUMBUS – As Ohio moves into the information age economy, it is increasingly important to adequately fund both the state’s kindergarten through 12th grade and higher education systems, Ohio State University President William E. Kirwan said during a recent speech to the Columbus Metropolitan Club.

“For years, we have followed an old and outdated paradigm, addressing K-12 education one year and higher education at some future time,” Kirwan said. “I propose that we think about these issues in an entirely different way – that we forge a new paradigm. In fact, we should not even be thinking about K-12 and higher education as separate entities. Rather, we should think of them as parts of one seamless system that begins with pre-school and continues through graduate school.”

There is a vital need to fund elementary, secondary and higher education, despite the fiscal environment that confronts us, Kirwan said.

“We should do this because of the decline in our economy, the importance of education and our longtime unwillingness to fund education at proper levels,” he said. “And in so doing, we should abandon the false dichotomy that encourages us to think of education in neat, unrelated compartments.”

The benefits of such an approach are huge. They include a stronger economy, more and better jobs and greater opportunities for all the people of Ohio, Kirwan said.

“In short, it is the road to better lives and greater hope. And consider this: What good will it do to strengthen one part of our education system at the expense of another? As a consequence, we will lose our best-prepared high school graduates to other states,” Kirwan added.

Kirwan strongly suggested moving on both fronts at once. In the next biennium, the emphasis would be on resolving the K-12 issue raised in DeRolph. However, while addressing this important need, the legislature also would build a foundation on which to fund higher education appropriately in fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

Kirwan proposes that The Ohio Plan, which supports higher education’s efforts in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology, be funded with at least $40 million during the next biennium, with full funding of $150 million for each of two years in the following biennium.

He also proposes:

At least $50 million – and if possible, as much as $98 million – be added to the State Share of Instruction to fund a new program called InfoLIFT, a proposed public/private effort to improve the pipeline of information technology professionals. Standing for Information Literacy/Fluency in Information Technology program, InfoLIFT will assure that graduates of Ohio’s public colleges and universities meet at least basic national standards for information literacy and that graduates in most major program areas will demonstrate competency in information technology appropriate to that area.

A $267 million, 50 percent supplement to next year’s higher education portion of the state’s capital budget. Those funds would be used to build needed research space and to upgrade the learning environment for technology.

The state fund the full proposal advocated by the Board of Regents last fall in fiscal years 2004 and 2005.

Kirwan said higher education benefits the state’s economy in many ways, including providing well-prepared students who comprise a competitive workforce and innovative ideas and discoveries that drive technology.

“Without exception, regions with the fastest-growing economies – places like Austin, Texas; Silicon Valley; and the Research Triangle of North Carolina – depend upon the presence of a research university. But not just any research university; a top-tier teaching and research university,” Kirwan said. “Ohio State is determined to be the top-tier university that Ohio needs.”

By creating a strategic plan designed to transform the university from good to great, Kirwan said, Ohio State seeks to become a major force in building Ohio’s knowledge economy. While the plan is winning wide support on campus and throughout the state, it also requires resources – a total of $800 million over the next five years.

Kirwan said the university’s request for relief from the tuition cap has received wide attention and support from many on campus as well as Governor Bob Taft, the Regents and most of the state’s major newspapers.

“In offering this proposal, we made two binding commitments. First, need-based aid budgets would be adjusted so that no admitted student would be denied the opportunity to attend Ohio State for financial reasons. And second, that all funds collected from ‘above the cap’ revenue would directly benefit undergraduates. Benefits would include smaller classes, fewer closed courses, better academic advising and greater access to technology in the classroom,” Kirwan said.

“Yes, we must make choices and set priorities,” he said. “No, we cannot do everything at once. But the threshold question isn’t ‘Can we afford to address these concerns.’ It’s can we afford not to?”

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