COLUMBUS (WCMH) — 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 this: It depends.
Carey and his Chief of Staff educated members of the Ohio College Affordability Committee at their first hearing 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 taskforce, are lots of good ideas and we’ll just have to take a look at what’s doable and not doable,” said Wilson.
But before any of that can happen, Wilson says 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 simple celebrated the success that have 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 Thursday.
Wilson says, 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 says 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% of the amount the students family is expected to contribute (based on FASFA). 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, and Ramos says this solves a number of issues the state and its residents face.
It slows population decline by offering an incentive for students to stay here in Ohio long enough, and with enough financial stability, to put down roots.
It also opens the door to high education to more people, and studies have shown that an educated populace is a healthier populace which could reduce the stress on the State Medicaid program.
It creates jobs high paying jobs in Ohio by having an abundant and educated workforce.
Finally, Ramos says, 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 says the Democrats 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,” said Antani.
It should be noted that the State Legislature has ordered the public colleges and universities to freeze their tuition for the past 4 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,” said Wilson.
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 says made it in before the May 15th cutoff date and is guaranteed to get at least 1 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 says tax breaks and helping people who feel they are being left behind are not mutually exclusive to either party.