Higher education coalition calls for expansion of state grant

ohio-statehouse-cupola.jpgEducation lobbying groups met at the Ohio Statehouse Tuesday to make a push for more dollars in the state budget devoted to higher education.

— A coalition of education lobbying groups kicked off a campaign Tuesday at
the Statehouse to chip away at student debt in Ohio.

Members of the Ohio Higher
Education Coalition are pushing for more state funding for higher education, but one of their first concerns is to expand the Ohio College Opportunity
Grant, in both recipients and funding. 

Degree-seeking students at eligible institutions must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA, have an expected family contribution of $2,190 or less and come from a household with a maximum income of $75,000 to receive awards through the grant, which was phased in between fiscals 2007 and 2010. A
current full-time student enrolled at a main campus of an Ohio public
university, except for Central State University, could receive as much as $920
this school year, according to the Ohio Higher Education website. During the 2009-2010 academic year, that maximum amount stood at $1,008.

enrolled at regional campuses and most students at community colleges typically aren’t
eligible for aid, because federal Pell grants often can defray more than the cost of tuition.

But coalition members say those students deserve state money to help out with other costs associated with schooling.

Joel Solow, the Ohio Student Association’s Northeast Ohio regional organizer, said at a news conference Tuesday that proposal is the first step toward making college “actually genuinely affordable for Ohio students.”

Solow called on Gov. John Kasich and state legislators, specifically Senate Education Committee chair Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, to build more funding for higher education into the state budget and to expand the grant.

Lehner did not respond by 2:15 p.m. to a request to comment.

According to the latest Ohio Legislative Service Commission budget “greenbook,” the state currently sets aside about $90.3 million for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant — down from about $151.1 million in fiscal 2009, according to the commission’s 2008-2009 final fiscal analysis.

John McNay, president of the Ohio Conference of the American Association of University Professors, reiterated Solow’s concerns about student debt, and said the amount of money going toward classroom instruction has been “dismal.”

Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor John Carey said in a statement Tuesday that “Governor Kasich continues to make higher education a top
priority, and continues to look at ways to get more students – traditional and
nontraditional – to complete their degrees in less time and for less money.”

Sam Howard is a fellow in Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelHHoward.

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