LIMA — An Ohio-based organization is fighting to restore state aid to students attending community colleges and branch campuses such as Rhodes State College and Ohio State University-Lima.
“Students in the two-year sector, which is basically community college and branch campus students, are the only sector who do not qualify for state needs-based aid, and we would like to change that,” Ohio Association of Community Colleges Public Affairs Director Jeff Ortega said. “We think that they should have access to that aid as does other sectors of higher education in the state.”
During last year’s state appropriations process, the community college group worked to restore this aid to community college and branch campus students but failed before the state budget went into effect on July 1. It is working to gain support from college officials and state legislators to get a state budget correction bill passed this month to provide $20 million in state aid through a program called Ohio Workforce Opportunity Grant.
Under the proposed provisions, students would be eligible for grants of $1,000 per semester or $2,000 per academic year.
Rhodes State College officials support the work of the association.
“This is funding that needs to be certainly reinstated and grant dollars under Pell, particularly for our students, does not stretch to the extent that it should, so the reinstatement of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant for community college students makes all the sense in the world,” Rhodes State College President Dr. Debra McCurdy said. “With 45 percent of students coming to community colleges, we are a good number in the state of Ohio and the state funding is only afforded to students at the four-year level and private institutions while students at the two-year level are not able to secure those dollars.”
She said this hurts low-income students and minority students who are trying to secure higher education and puts community college and branch campus students at a disadvantage. The funding mechanism also affects student enrollment because they can only obtain Pell grants and not state need-based grants.
“It does not make sense in the state that they would eliminate a whole group of students, nearly 40 percent, not being able to access these funds,” McCurdy said, especially when the state officials predict 180,000 more students to enter colleges in the future including two-year institutions.
The budget bill passed in July and signed by Gov. John Kasich allocates approximately $176 million for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program, or $88 million per year in 2014 and 2015, with $41 million each allocated to four-year public institutions and non-profit private institutions. The remaining $6 million goes to private for-profit career colleges and schools.
In 2009, the Ohio Board of Regents cut need-based aid to students at community colleges, regional campuses and for-profit schools because the recession created losses in state funding. Students at for-profit schools have since regained some grant funding. Under these state grants, full-time students can receive between approximately $200 to more than $2,000 per year for tuition at a four-year institution.
Federal Pell Grants, which can be used to cover a variety of college-related costs including living expenses, transportation and food, provides up to $5,645 during the 2013-14 school year. College students must use Pell grants before receiving money through the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, which can only be used to pay the cost of tuition.
Ortega contends restoring aid to community college and branch campus students benefits the students and society.
“We think it is an investment by the state to students attending institutions which are very close to workforce development, associate’s degrees and other value in the labor market,” Ortega said. “We also feel that there is a lot of emphasis on the completion agenda of having more students complete degrees and credentials in the labor market and we feel this supports that initiative.”
State Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, who sits on the Higher Education Subcommittee and the Higher Education Reform Study Committee, spearheaded efforts to rein in the cost of higher education. He chaired six meetings throughout the state last fall.
“These study committee hearings are designed to include more Ohioans in the conversation on improving higher education and making it more accessible,” Rosenberger said in a news release.