Ohio students and public higher education institutions need state support
Posted December 17, 2020 in Press Releases
As COVID-19 cases climb, a new report from Policy Matters Ohio and the Ohio Student Association (OSA) shows that the pandemic is driving down enrollment at Ohio colleges and universities, straining institutions’ budgets and dramatically reshaping campus life. The situation is made worse by insufficient state support and the failure of federal leaders to pass another round of COVID aid.
“We all benefit when everyone has the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” said Policy Matters Ohio Researcher Piet van Lier, report co-author. “Policymakers are refusing to provide students and institutions support to get through the health crisis and recession. The pandemic is exacerbating longer-term trends, putting higher education even further out of reach for many Ohioans, especially older students, students of color and students whose families have low incomes.”
The analysis shows that traditional enrollment at Ohio public colleges and universities fell by 4.3% this fall compared to the previous year. Two-year community colleges and regional campuses — which are more likely to be attended by Black and brown students and those with lower incomes — each lost about 7% of their students.
Ohio lawmakers had planned to increase funding for need-based aid in the 2020-21 budget, but citing the pandemic’s impact on state revenue, Gov. DeWine held funding for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant for the current fiscal year to last year’s levels. He also cut the State Share of Instruction, Ohio’s main financial support for public colleges and universities.
State funding is critical, but students and schools desperately need another round of federal relief. Congress’s first aid package, the CARES Act, gave Ohio’s public colleges and universities $277 million, most of it earmarked for meeting COVID safety protocols and providing grants directly to students. The aid, while essential, did not make up for Gov. DeWine’s cuts.
More than 60,000 Ohio students have received emergency CARES Act grants, and the law also allowed schools to turn Federal Work-Study funds into grants. But with jobs on- and off-campus hard to find this year, low-income students are losing income they need to continue their education.
Students are feeling the impact. An OSA survey this fall of 42 students representing 10 Ohio schools found that many worry about a lack of safety protocols and affording their basic needs. They reported feeling disconnected from their peers and their professors. In a separate survey, Ohio colleges said more students are using campus mental health services. The schools also said students without access to technology and internet struggle with campus shut-downs.
“Ohio’s policymakers and legislators must do all they can to ensure that students are not priced out of pursuing a post-secondary degree,” said Luke Frederick, a researcher with the OSA and report co-author. “They have to boost state funding for our public colleges and universities, prioritize aid for students and institutions with the most need, and pressure Ohio’s representatives in Washington to craft relief packages that meet students’ needs.”