OU, along with the state’s other public universities, has been challenged by the Ohio Senate to create a plan to reduce students’ costs of earning a degree by 5 percent.

A challenge from the state prompted Ohio University's Board of Trustees to discuss ways to lower costs to students on campus while providing the same or better education quality at Thursday's Joint Resources and Academics Committee meeting.

OU — along with the state’s other public universities — has been challenged by the Ohio Senate to create a plan to reduce students’ costs of earning a degree by 5 percent.

OU will submit on Thursday its recommendations to reduce student costs, including textbook savings strategies, which could reduce costs by $148.50, or completing a degree in three years, which would save students $2,093.35, Vice President for Finance and Administration Stephen Golding said at the meeting.

Those recommendations center around student choices, Golding said. About 46 percent of students are currently in programs they could complete in three years, but only 1.8 percent make that decision.

The trustees debated whether those recommendations would be effective in reducing costs to students, since they have those options but may not make those choices to save money.

“Seniors here will start to well up, they want to stay another semester,” OU President Roderick McDavis said. ”We can’t get them to leave. That’s not a bad thing. ... In Ohio right now we’re trying to force everyone into one mode, and we’re not taking into account whether it’s a residential campus or a city campus.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit said the university is currently creating a guide that would show students the impacts, financially and otherwise, of the choices they make, such as picking a three-year program or choosing a certain meal plan.

The board will vote on a resolution to approve those recommendations, which were provisionally sent to the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents on Thursday before OU’s board had the chance to hear them.

University officials also presented on the OU Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency — inspired by the governor’s task force for the state’s universities — which is exploring methods to cut cost for many students while being sustainable for the university’s budgets and programs.

At the state level, officials recommend that universities cut administrative costs by studying healthcare costs and optimizing use of buildings on campus.

Deb Shaffer, senior associate vice president for finance and administration, gave the board an update on the university’s main method for paying for much-needed renovations and repairs to campus buildings, the century bond, a $250 million, 100-year loan issued in November 2014.

To leverage the extensive loan, OU created an “internal bank” system, where it draws from the university’s assets, reserves and investments to cover costs.

OU structured its assets to have about $216 million to spend on deferred maintenance projects, with another $100 million in reserve for emergency situations, Shaffer said.

OU’s outstanding internal loan balance was $342.4 million in July, which the university expects to reduce to $326.6 million by June 30, according to the board’s agenda.

After taking a tour of Park Place and seeing buildings on campus, trustees discussed their thoughts of the Capital Improvement Plan to renovate and build new structures on campus.

Before the meeting officially began, Trustee Peggy Viehweger suggested creating a similar plan for caring for buildings at OU’s regional campuses, specifically the Dublin campus. However, Benoit and Golding suggested the university wait until its regional campuses became more developed.

“You can’t just be grounded in one place,” Golding said. “You have to be grounded in statewide basis in order to be relevant and in order to be competitive.”

Before the next board meeting, OU will undergo review at four campuses, including the Athens campus, to renew its accreditation.

OU must be accredited in order for students to receive federal financial aid, Benoit said in a previous Post article.

The Academic Quality Improvement Plan will visit OU’s campuses Nov. 2 to 4, asking questions and viewing programs in order to determine if the Higher Learning Commission should reaffirm OU’s status as an accredited university.

The board will be invited to a lunch during the site visit with plan's officials, and board members will be asked questions about how governance works at OU along with the leaders of senates on campus, Benoit said.

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