Monday, March 31, 2008

Fingerhut's Soft Sell

Chancellor Eric Fingerhut of the The University System of Ohio delivered his Strategic Plan as scheduled today. The result is a painfully cautious document with many laudable goals (increased enrollment, more STEM degrees, improved quality) but few of the hard choices necessary to achieve them. You can find the Plan, along with a separate downloadable Executive Summary at the U System website.

As one example, the Plan spends considerable time examining the situation here in Northeast Ohio. We get an accurate, unblinking view of the landscape:

    Yet questions about the missions of the distinct
    universities do arise in Northeast Ohio. The reason
    is plain – the state has four public universities in
    four contiguous counties (Cleveland State in
    Cuyahoga, Kent State in Portage, the University of
    Akron in Summit and Youngstown State in
    Mahoning), plus one of the last free standing
    medical schools in the country, the Northeastern
    Ohio Universities College of Medicine
    (NEOUCOM), in a region that has seen its overall
    share of the state’s population decline over the last
    several decades. The close proximity and the lack of
    population growth have made the schools
    intensely competitive, a competition which has not
    served the best interest of the state or the region.

Acknowledgment that no on can be happy with the current situation:
    Had we started with a blank slate, we would not
    have drawn so many competing institutions in
    such close proximity to each other.

And a firm, decisive plan to . . . keep talking about it:
    To that end, the Chancellor will
    convene a public session of the trustees of the
    four public universities and NEOUCOM at least
    annually to review the progress toward
    improving quality, increasing mission differentiation,
    increasing collaboration, increasing the
    contribution of the institutions to the regional and
    state economy, and decreasing competition
    among the institutions.

The report as a whole pretty much follows that pattern. We now have goals and a promise that Chancellor Fingerhut will follow up on those goals, but as yet only faint suggestions that the Chancellor or the Governor are contemplating bringing any big wood into the game.

Given Ohio's historically entropic universe of public institutions, simply assembling a document suggesting a single vision is itself an impressive accomplishment. This report would not have been possible were it not for the Governor's success in organizing a single system under an executive appointed Chancellor. Still, assembling the Strategic Plan is a simple matter compared to actually implementing it. One measure of how difficult this will be is the calculatedly inoffensive tone of the document. It's a soft sell. Now we see who buys in.


Ben said...

It will be a tough sell. People who have been entrenched in their ways for a long time are always resistant to change.

Bill Sloat said...

Pho --

If we already have several universities all over this state, why are we talking about expanding the JuCos? Supposedly because they are lower cost and will take kids the big schools will not. But the logic eludes me. Why not make the big schools take more kids at lower costs. Is it really economical to add a JuCo in Portage County when Kent State is there? Does it make sense to have Tri-C when there are four public universities within driving distance of its campus? I don't have answers, but I'm wondering why the two-tiered college system?
What does Tri-Co do that KSU or UA or Cleveland State YSU cannot do -- or won't do? Are the big universities haughty, do they not see their mission as educating the kids who have to go to Tri-C for college classes?

Eric said...

"Are the big universities haughty ..." The governance and accrediting systems are different. One prepares students to go to work in two years. The other prepares students to go to graduate or professional school in four years. (An overly broad brush, to be sure, but possibly more true than we all might wish...)

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