This story in Sunday’s Dispatch shows how much university presidents and deans will demean themselves in order to curry favor with the incoming Kasich Administration. 

First, let’s cover the state of higher education historically in Ohio, and what Governor Strickland did in four years:

After a five-year decline, state support for instruction per student for the public, four-year universities increased from 2007 to 2010. Still, Ohio remains well below the national average in per-student legislative funding, at $4,901. The average annual out-of-pocket cost in Ohio is $5,433 for university students, $2,561 for regional campus students and $613 for community-college students.

In Strickland’s first two years as governor, universities froze tuition rates in exchange for strong state financial support. In the current two-year budget, state spending on higher education was less robust, so colleges could raise tuition up to 3.5 percent each year.

Before Governor Strickland, Ohio was cutting state support per student at Ohio’s colleges and universities.  During the 1990s, we saw annual tuition increases in the double digits.  This during good economic times in Ohio.

Then Governor Strickland turned it around.  He kept tuition frozen for the first half of his term while keeping tuition increases capped to a modest 3.5% annually for the final two as state funding per student increased.  This during very difficult economic and budgetary times in Ohio.  In-state enrollment at Ohio’s universities and colleges hit historic highs.

But even as Governor Strickland closed that gap, Ohio still is below the national average in state funding per student.

Read the tea leaves, and the universities are giving Governor-elect Kasich an out: cut our funding and we won’t complain if you let us increase tuition more than we could under Governor Strickland.  For a lazy, short-sighted legislature facing billions (and growing, thanks to Governor-elect Kasich’s actions) in estimated deficits, cutting university and college funding while permitting those higher education institutions to offset those cuts with tuition increases is a relatively pain-free way to cut spending.  The university presidents say we’ll let you promote our partnership in economic development with the private sector, Governor-elect Kasich, and not complain about you cutting our state funding, but only if you allow us to return to the double-digit tuition increases under Governors Voinovich and Taft.

However, it’s not pain-free for the middle class.  Ohio has some of the highest tuition in the nation, even at the in-state rate.  If that goes up, we’ll see in-state enrollment down, thus advancing a brain drain out of the State.

Our college-aged Ohioans are already inclined, according to a recent Ohio Poll, to move out of the State due to the climate.  Add the cost of higher education to it, and we’ll see them leave Ohio in greater numbers and never come back.

The Kasich campaign (and its surrogates) repeatedly attacked Governor Strickland over the “brain drain” issue.  We asked repeatedly during the campaign whether a Governor Kasich would promise to do as well or better than Governor Strickland did in holding the line on college tuition.  We could not find a single published report, blog post, speech, or e-mail in which Kasich indicated what, if anything, he concretely planned to do about higher education.

The Dispatch itself noted that Kasich is still refusing comment on the issue:

Kasich, a Republican who has vowed to deal with the expected state budget deficit without raising taxes, didn’t return several phone calls last week. But during the run-up to the election, he summed up his feelings this way: "Education’s always going to be a priority, and we want to make sure the resources are always going to be there, but I wouldn’t declare anything inevitable."

It is well past time for John Kasich to tell us what he’s planning to do as Governor.  He first refused to do that in the campaign, promising that such details would be released closer to the election once the WWE season was over.  It never happened.  He refuses to answer basic questions to what his budgetary priorities would be.  He’s made it clear that they have, at least, a rough outline of what they’re going to propose.  Out with it, sir.

While it’s true that, legally, Kasich doesn’t have to unveil his budget until March, a Governor that lacks a mandate by the people Ohio should not rest on the laurels of the party unity in the legislature to enact sweeping changes that the people of Ohio were never told could result from an election in which a majority sat on the sidelines… because they didn’t know what he’d do as Governor.

Kasich is going to quickly find that these Republican state legislators aren’t as willing to march lockstep with him as he believes.  They, after all, want to stay in the majority and have to face the voters in 2012, a presidential election year when the 300k voters mostly Democratic voters who sat out in 2010 will likely be back voting again.  They don’t have the cover of enacting an agenda that the people of Ohio gave Kasich a mandate to pursue in 2010. 

In other words, while Kasich may be content to be a one-term Governor, he’s going to find out that the legislators in the General Assembly do not wish to be a one-term majority.  (The reality is that Governor Strickland had a better working relationship, even with the Republican majority leadership, than Taft or Voinovich ever did.)

Instead of holding press conference with his special interest allies only then to engage in political theater by then going to wag his finger as such interests who might oppose his agenda, perhaps the week-old Governor-elect should finally clue us in on what this agenda is that he fears people and “special interest” groups might oppose.

Maybe he thinks we’re too uneducated to get it?