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previous chancellors spent a lot of capital trying to shut down
programs,” Fingerhut explained. The centers-of-excellence
idea leaves the decision at the university level “and empowers
people on campus who wanted to do this but were hampered
by internal resistance.”
Almost immediately, some presidents started jockeying
tomake sure their universities were given favored status.
The president of the University of Akron, with Fingerhut in
the audience, said in a speech that it should be designated
northeast Ohio’s public research university, even while Kent
State’s president was telling reporters almost the exact same
thing about his school. The two public universities are only 20
minutes apart.
Persuading everyone on campus to chant the mantra
of economic development proved tricky, too. Some faculty
members worried aloud that the liberal arts would be
neglected. It was the job of politicians to worry about the
economy, not the job of universities, they said.
“For a long time universities in general just
didn’t think of economic development as part
of their mission,” Baunach said. “It was basic
research and teaching.” Even now, she said,
“Youmight have an enlightened president, but
then the provost is still old line, and the old-
line professors are still there who think there
ought to be a demarcation between industry
and academia. Boy, it still goes back to that
academic purity.”
But collaboration has been taking hold. A
newAdvisory Committee on Efficiency, made
up of regents, students, faculty, the universities
and colleges, and business representatives,
meets in public and produces monthly reports
for legislators and the media about which
universities are meeting goals based on projects
pioneered at one campus or another. For
example, when Lakeland Community College piloted new
energy-efficiency standards, all the universities were given the
job of meeting them.
“Do you really want to be the campus that’s the least energy
efficient in Ohio?” Fingerhut asked, smiling. “That’s not what
you want to be. This inmy view is the purpose of the central
office. I’m trying to structure this so that the public pressures
and competitive juices of people kick in.”
The universities and colleges collectively claim savings
of $250 million, after pooling purchasing of everything from
office supplies to power. A new joint information-technology
purchasing program, which also involves school districts, is
projected to save another $130 million over three years. A
purchasing-card agreement with JPMorgan will provide cash
rebates estimated at about $6 million in five years. And Ohio
is one of seven states to receive a grant of nearly $1 million
from the Lumina Foundation for Education to find still more
ways to consolidate administrative operations such as human
resources and payroll services across campuses.
Individual universities have also gotten into the spirit of
things by striking deals with each other. The University of
Akron has agreed tomanage technology transfer for Cleveland
State University. Ohio State and Ohio University teamed up
with the state retirement system to save a combined $4 million
a year on their prescription drug plans.
In northwest Ohio, joint degree programs have been
hammered out among Cleveland State, the University of
Akron, Cuyahoga Community College and Lorain County
Community College, under which some students never
have to leave their community-college campus to earn a
bachelor’s degree. Columbus State Community College and
Ohio University have reached a similar agreement. Columbus
State students can take Ohio University courses toward
their bachelor’s degrees without leaving the Columbus State
campus—at a total cost for the degree, said Fingerhut, of as
little as $15,000.
The paths to these kinds of deals have been smoothed since
general-education courses at every Ohio public university and
college were guaranteed to satisfy basic or general-education
requirements at every other Ohio public university and college.
University students quickly figured out that they can use these
transferable credits to satisfy degree requirements, and that
they can earn themmuchmore cheaply between semesters
at community colleges, which saw a 19 percent spike in
enrollment during last year’s summer session.
Even the University of Akron and Kent State have reached
détente. The University of Akron is a partner in an innovation
park west of Akron and, in the middle of the city, a polymer
innovation center and a biomedical corridor in partnership
with Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and
Pharmacy, while Kent State is redeveloping a former bus garage
east of Akron into space for startup high-tech firms.
The universities are reaching some economic development
milestones, too. The Ohio Skills Bank, a regional workforce
initiative meant to link university degree output with economic
needs, found that more licensed practical nurses were being
turned out than are needed, but not enough registered nurses,
so several community colleges and four-year universities
teamed up to give LPNs the training they need to become RNs.
After Fingerhut gathered every engineering school dean in
the state tomake a presentation, the private aviation company
Even after the
economy began to
slide, causing state
revenues to fall
short of projections,
Governor Strickland
mostly shielded the
universities from
funding cuts.
Ohio’s governor, Democrat Ted Strickland, has bucked the
trend of huge budget cuts by making public higher education a
financial and political priority.