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had begun in 2006 and would endure until summer 2009.
Even after the economy began to slide, causing state revenues
to fall $1.9 billion short of projections, Stricklandmostly
shielded the universities from funding cuts. In the last round
of $640 million in statewide cuts, only $25 million came from
universities and colleges—about one percent, compared to
losses of as much as 30 percent suffered by some other state
That got the universities’ attention. And if it didn’t,
newspaper editorial pages were happy to help. The schools
“must put away the daggers and one-upmanship,” warned the
Cleveland Plain Dealer.
They had to “become teamplayers in
a way that they haven’t before,” wrote the
Columbus Dispatch.
Nor did Strickland rely entirely on good intentions. On August
2, 2007, he signed an executive order creating the University
Systemof Ohio, which includes the 13 public universities,
one medical college, and 23 community colleges. Adult career
centers and adult basic literacy programs previously run by the
Department of Education were added later.
Responsibility for appointing the chancellor was shifted
from the often unresponsive Board of Regents to the governor,
and the position was raised to cabinet level, making Ohio
one of only a few states—including Colorado, Maryland,
Minnesota and NewMexico—where the chancellor answers
directly to the governor. Under the old system, Strickland
would have been two years into his termbefore he was able to
make even a single appointment to the Board of Regents; now
the chancellor was directly accountable to him.
The universities chafed, and still chafe, at any hint of
the kind of centralization that exists inmany other states.
They want to be cost-effective, said Bruce Johnson, a former
lieutenant governor and now president of the Inter-University
Council of Ohio, the universities’ lobbying arm. “They want
to be collaborative. And they don’t want to be run from
Columbus,” said Johnson in his office near the statehouse in
Columbus. Ohio’s universities prefer to be part of a systemwith
a small “s,” Johnson said. “The universities themselves know
how to run universities. No one here in Capitol Square does.”
Still, with his changes in place, the governor began to lay
out new expectations. Less than a year after the university
systemwas established, Fingerhut delivered a ten-year
strategic plan. Before releasing it, he said, he spent a day
reviewing it withWilliam “Brit” Kirwan, a former president
of Ohio State and now chancellor of the University System of
Maryland, who had helped transform the higher education
landscape in that state.
Fingerhut’s strategic plan called on the universities to
graduate an additional 230,000 students over ten years by
increasing enrollment from 472,694 in 2008 to 702,694 by
2017, and by boosting the number of degrees awarded at all
levels from about 73,000 to 100,000 annually. They would
also attract enough federal research spending per capita to
move from 30th to the top ten in that category. The General
Assembly agreed to base state funding for the four-year
universities on outcomes, rather than enrollment; by 2012,
some 30 percent of funding could be determined by such
things as graduation rates.
The blueprint also gave the universities the role of
measurably improving the economy. This got the newspapers
comparing Fingerhut’s job, as
Crain’s Chicago
put it, to TomCruise’s character’s in
Mission Impossible.
“This is easy,” Fingerhut said,
pointing to a dog-eared, loose-leaf copy of his
strategic plan for an objective titled, “Graduate
more students.” “But this,” he said, pointing to
the next objective, “Keeping graduates in Ohio,”
“this is all new to higher education. Isn’t this the
mayor’s job, the chamber of commerce’s job?
No, it’s our job, and we have ways to do this.”
Fingerhut promises to persuade 70 percent
of graduates to stay in Ohio—roughly the same
percentage that now leaves. “We own this metric
now, and that’s a radical departure,” he said.
“Sure, there’s a huge risk. The pushback I got
on this was, ‘My gosh, do we really control the
economy? Do we control that the hot cities are
Chicago or Seattle?’ Yes, we can control enough
of this tomake a difference about it.”
In a sector known for endless deliberation and
interminable process, the universities have been comparatively
quick to catch on to the popularity of this idea. Presidents
now speak of making contributions to Ohio—“When each
institution does well, all of Ohio does well,” said Bowling
Green’s Cartwright, for instance. And they rattle off statistics
about how they are meeting their targets, as if they’re reading
from a common set of talking points.
“My impression is that they enjoy the respect that they
are getting and the recognition that I and others are showing
them,” said Strickland. Added Fingerhut: “It is a powerful
communication strategy, and I believe the universities are
starting to understand that.”
Bringing the universities together hasn’t been entirely
without problems. Fingerhut’s plan proposes weeding out
poor programs by rewarding good ones—designating
the strongest programs as “centers of excellence” that can
especially contribute to the state economy, in exchange for
which they get special funding and attention. “I noticed that
Hard times have
provided an
effective argument
in Ohio to drive
support for public
higher education:
unabashedly linking
it to economic
“When each institution does well, all of Ohio does well,” says Carol Cartwright,
president of Bowling Green State University.
Larry Hamill, Black Star, for CrossTalk