The GREAT Scholarship
Ohio’s first city-sponsored scholarship program in Green picks up where state has fallen short
It is no secret that investing in a highly skilled workforce is becoming the most important factor in whether companies choose to locate somewhere, with 90 percent of economic development organizations in one February survey identifying that delivering a skilled workforce is more important in the site selection process. The business community recognizes this key to future economic development, applauding especially New York State’s commitment to making two-year and four-year state colleges free for students as long as they remain in the state four years after graduation. One business analyst called this “a boon for New York employers.”
However, as a state, Ohio has done the opposite of investing in a highly skilled workforce. Not only is the state proposing to spend about $826 million less in inflation-adjusted dollars on its K-12 education system than the state did during the Great Recession, but the state has quietly, but no less importantly, stepped decidedly away from the higher education investments necessary to ensure a thriving, 21st Century workforce. According to a recent Philanthropy Ohio study, Ohio is now 45th of 50 states on college affordability. To add to the problem, in 2007-2008, Ohio offered two state higher education grants for $224 million. That has shrunk to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant’s $100 million investment.
In 1990, when I entered college as a freshman, higher education made up about 15% of the state’s budget. Now it constitutes barely half that percentage.
And, according to the Plain Dealer, “The two-year budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich and recently passed by the Ohio House fails to move the needle to help qualified but financially struggling college students afford college.”
Given the incredible importance highly skilled workers play in today and future economic development, and the state’s steadfast refusal to invest in those workers, it falls (again) on local Ohio communities and philanthropists to do the state’s job. Whether it’s the hero’s work the Lebron James Family Foundation is doing in Akron, or the compact Montgomery County has formed to ensure more highly skilled and educated workers develop in their communities, Ohio’s local leaders have started taking the mantle that the state left unworn for 20 years.
But we need to do more.
As a City Councilman in Green, I started looking at our budget and was amazed to discover we had $12.3 million remaining unspent at the end of our fiscal year in 2016. That’s right. It’s sitting in an account unspent. This is when I decided to take about 2 percent of that funding and rather than let it sit in a bank somewhere, invest it in our kids. And the GREAT Scholarship – Ohio’s first city-sponsored, four-year scholarship program for first-generation college students – was born.
The Green Reaches Educational Attainment Together Scholarship would do the following:
- Provide $2,500, annual scholarships to Green High School graduates and residents whose parents do not have a college degree
- Recipients have to live in Green for at least two years
- Recipients have to carry a 2.5 GPA or higher in high school
- Recipients have to remain continuously enrolled in a two-year or four-year college and maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher
Green has about one out of every five students on free and reduced lunch, and the schools estimated that about 30-40 students would qualify for the scholarship. First generation students are the least likely to start college and most likely to not complete college.
Once this program is fully implemented, about 120 students would be receiving these scholarships, to the tune of $300,000 in city funds, or barely 2 percent of the money we currently have sitting in a bank making money for the bank.
This plan still has to go through City Council’s legislative process and be signed by our Mayor. It will likely change in scope, scale, cost, etc. But I’m proud that our community is the state’s first to blaze this trail, though I’m sad the state’s inaction has forced us to undertake this initiative.
The motto for the City of Green is “Prosperous. Progressive. Promising.”
I can think of no better way to honor that motto than to invest in our kids’ and community’s future. As for potential employers thinking of re-locating, I say, “Come to Green where we actually invest in the highly skilled workforce you crave.”
Steve Dyer is a former reporter for the Akron Beacon Journal and former two-term member of the Ohio House of Representatives. He currently serves as a member of the Green City Council.