Ohio

Is college affordable in Ohio? Depends on who you ask

The Ohio Department of Higher Education did not give a yes or no answer

COLUMBUS (WKBN) - It seems like a simple, if not basic, question -- “Is college affordable in Ohio?” The answer is anything but simple, however.

When asked the same question by lawmakers, Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education John Carey did not give a yes or no answer.

His qualified response was buried in bureaucratic language that basically boiled down to "that depends."

Carey and his chief of staff educated members of the Ohio College Affordability Committee had their first hearing on Thursday. The members of the committee chose State Senator Steve Wilson to be chairman of the body.

“What I believe will come out of this committee, this task force, are lots of good ideas and we’ll just have to take a look at what’s doable and not doable,” Wilson said.

But before any of that can happen, Wilson said the committee needed to all be on the same page with where the state is coming from -- hence the presentation by the Department of Higher Education.

State Representative Mike Duffey applauded the presentation before pointing out that it simply celebrated the success that has been made in recent years.

Nearly all of the committee members, state representatives and senators from both sides of the aisle wanted more information than what the Department of Higher Education provided.

Wilson said much has been achieved in recent years, but more can be done.

While the committee was getting a history lesson, State Representative Dan Ramos was explaining his newest bill to the media.

Ramos said his bill would make college nearly free for all Ohioans by creating the Ohio Lets Everyone Achieve Right Now (LEARN) tax credit.

Here’s how it works -- the cost of college (tuition, books, room and board) is calculated, any assistance (scholarships, grants, etc.) are subtracted from the total, as is 10 percent of the amount the student's family is expected to contribute (based on FAFSA). That amount is how much the student would receive a tax credit for.

The credit could be applied while the student is attending school if they are paying for it with cash as they go, or it can be applied after the student has graduated if they financed their education with loans.

In either scenario, the person who pays the school bill would be eligible for the credit for 10 years, as long as that student lives and works in Ohio.

This credit would only apply to students attending public colleges and universities for associates and bachelor’s degrees. Ramos said this solves a number of issues the state and its residents face.

It slows population decline by offering an incentive for students to stay in Ohio long enough and with enough financial stability to put down roots.

It also opens the door to higher education to more people. Studies have shown that an educated populace is a healthier populace, which could reduce the stress on the State Medicaid program.

It creates high-paying jobs in Ohio by having an abundant and educated workforce.

Finally, Ramos said, it reduces student debt.

Introducing this tax cut for Ohioans seems like a no-brainier to Ramos, but not everyone is thrilled with the idea.

Republican State Representative Niraj Antani said the Democrat's bill is not the right way to solve the problem.

Antani wants to make college more affordable and reduce student debt by attacking the costs on the front end by lowering tuition and fees, not the back end with a tax credit.

“A tax credit after the fact sounds like a good idea, but all it will do is give colleges and universities and excuses to raise tuition and fees because they know their student debt will be able to be waived after,” Antani said.

It should be noted that the State Legislature has ordered the public colleges and universities to freeze their tuition for the past four years.

Wilson, when hearing of Ramos’ bill said he would not mind having him present the bill to the committee at a future meeting.

“Absolutely, we are going to find a way to engage everybody who wants to give us an idea,” Wilson said.

It would be another way for Ramos to get the contents of his bill on a path to potential enactment.

Ramos is term-limited and will not be back at the Statehouse next year, but he is hopeful that his bill -- which he said made it in before the May 15 cutoff date and is guaranteed to get at least one hearing -- will be picked up by another lawmaker since it is unlikely to pass as a bill this General Assembly due to the short legislative window which is being compounded by a void in majority party leadership at the moment.

Ramos said tax breaks and helping people who feel they are being left behind are not mutually exclusive to either party.


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