Higher education leaders are nearing consensus on how to spend the more than $400 million they’re expecting to receive in this year’s capital budget to improve and maintain infrastructure.
The Higher Education Capital Funding Commission, which is in its third round of crafting recommendations for the administration’s capital appropriations bill, plans to wrap up its work by the end of the month.
Without providing details of the arrangement, those close to the process say the sectors have largely agreed on how to allocate the funding in the wake of some House lawmakers pushing for additional money for community colleges.
“I think everybody has gotten better at it,” Ohio Association of Community Colleges President Jack Hershey said, referring to the process of collaborating to recommend funding – a duty the administration passed on to the institutions in 2012.
“I think the level of projects you’ll see are much better, much more strategic and aligned to the overall goals we’ve heard from not only the governor but legislature as well,” he said. “I think everyone will be pretty proud of this set of projects we recommend.”
While the commission anticipates a slight increase in funding this year from the $404.5 million colleges and universities were allocated in 2014, it likely won’t be near the $700 million in requests it received from the state’s 36 institutions.
For that reason, “most of our recommendations will be very basic renovations, including laboratory space that is outdated. HVA systems that don’t work,” Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council of Ohio, said in an interview.
“There are $29 billion in assets around the state and that takes a lot of money to maintain,” he added.
Mr. Johnson said the projects are getting harder to whittle down as institutions become more familiar with the commission’s guiding principles and the governor’s expectations for higher education.
The seven guiding principles include: Focusing on maintaining investments the state has already made in existing facilities; advancing strategic collaborations; and reflecting the needs of students related to safety, degree completion and learning environment.
“Cutting this large list down to a smaller list is not an easy thing to do,” Mr. Johnson said. “All the requests have been very responsive to the governor’s principles so it makes it tougher for those of us who are making judgements.
A principle that institutions’ funding proposals have reflected more so in recent years is strengthening their ability to respond to new or increased workforce development opportunities in the state, Mr. Hershey said.
While the majority of this year’s funding allocations will continue to be for maintaining and modernizing facilities, he said there will also be recommendations to expand “educational efforts and industries that have in demand jobs” as well as career counseling projects.