COLUMBUS House seeks major changes for colleges

Democrats say they have been told nothing of the plan.
COLUMBUS -- The state would seek to eliminate duplicate academic programs at colleges and universities and would close one public law school under budget recommendations unveiled by the Ohio House.
The state would also put a two-year freeze on new academic programs, real estate and funding for graduate students, according to the recommendations released Thursday.
It's an effort to direct more state funding toward undergraduate students, a state lawmaker said.
& quot;The way we get Ohio out of its [slumping] economic situation is by having more two- and four-year students who graduate, & quot; said state Rep. Jim Hughes, a Columbus Republican and chairman of the higher education panel of the House Finance Committee.
Under the recommendations, part of the House's version of the new two-year state budget to be in place by July 1, the Board of Regents would recommend to lawmakers a plan to eliminate repetitive programs on college campuses. No specific time frame was given.
Hughes said the the idea is to have so-called & quot;Ohio Centers of Excellence & quot; that identify colleges and universities as having specific areas of expertise.
The budget recommendations also suggest having three of the state's six public medical colleges used as academic and research institutions and three as teaching and clinical research institutions.
What's behind this
The idea is to not have all schools try to be all things for all people, Hughes said.
& quot;With these economic times, we physically cannot support our institutions at the level we need to, & quot; Hughes told the finance committee, which is examining Republican Gov. Bob Taft's two-year, $49.2 billion budget proposal, including a $5.1 billion request for higher education.
The state would have to identify by Sept. 1 a public law school to be closed. That school would then have to shut down in three years.
Hughes said there are too many law schools in Ohio.
The proposed two-year moratorium on new academic programs, capital projects and real estate acquisitions would be in place unless the additions are called for in legislation enacted before June 30.
Exceptions would also be made for & quot;emergency & quot; projects.
What's proposed
The Board of Regents would be required by April 15, 2005, to order all state colleges and universities to make academic changes that would ease the transfer of academic credits between schools.
& quot;This makes our systems seamless for the two- to four-year school regarding the curriculum, & quot; Hughes said.
The recommendations also suggest an unspecified & quot;freeze & quot; in graduate-student funding, saying it was necessary to protect aid for two- and four-year students.
The budget recommendations also suggest capping tuition increases at 6 percent, except at Ohio State University, which would have a 9-percent cap.
Funding levels for higher education and the rest of the House's version of the new state budget weren't immediately available Thursday as lawmakers worked into the night.
Hughes said funding for financial aid, the Eminent Scholars program and the state instructional subsidies at two- and four-year campuses would not be cut.
State officials are trying to plug what some say could be a $4 billion deficit in the next two-year budget.
& quot;We were given no indication of what was in the report, & quot; said state Rep. Dale Miller, a Cleveland Democrat on the higher-education panel. & quot;This report does not reflect our thoughts on higher education. & quot;
Reaction was varied among the higher education officials.
Bill Napier, a lobbyist for OSU, said the proposal to freeze graduate student funding could be worrisome for colleges that focus on academic research.
Majority House Republicans say they expect votes on the new state budget by the committee and full House next week.
It then goes to the Senate.