The $2.4 billion capital budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich includes $450 million for projects for the state's 37 institutions of higher education, including Kent State University, Northeast Ohio Medical University and other state universities.
All will share in capital improvements funding; Kent State is earmarked for $18.5 million for science lab renovations and NEOMED is in line for $1.2 million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning repair.
In the past, the capital budget set off a scramble of politicking and pork barreling as colleges and universities pushed for funding, with those that were most successful at lobbying being "rewarded" for their efforts. In Kent State's case, that sometimes worked well, but there were periods where the Kent campus seemed to be ignored when the money was being doled out in Columbus.
Kasich, who prides himself on outside-the-box thinking, pushed the campuses to set aside their parochial interests in favor of a more cooperative approach, collectively identifying building needs. That meant that some might have to step aside to allow more pressing projects to get a share of the financial pie.
That approach seems to have worked. Members of the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, which is reviewing the capital budget, were told that all of the state's universities and community colleges support it.
"Our public colleges and universities, among the most powerful economic drivers in this state, have come together to both acknowledge and address the need to invest in the long-term maintenance of our campuses," Kevin Boys, president of Southern Community College, told the panel. "At the same time, our institutions ... are advancing projects that will, in a meaningful way, contribute to our great state's economic recovery as well as have an impact on student success and further encourage collaboration among our institutions."
Reversing the brain drain that sees many Ohio graduates leaving the state as soon as they get their degrees is vital if the state is to see a turnaround in its economic fortunes. Strong institutions of higher learning, with cutting-edge facilities and programs that make them competitive, are not luxuries but necessities. Focusing on cooperation, rather than competition, for state funding will make all of them stronger in the long run.