From the celebration of his investiture in the spring to his affordability tour throughout southern and western Ohio this summer, University President Michael Drake had a busy first year at Ohio State. Now, looking ahead to his second year, Drake said he anticipates the continuation of several previous initiatives and the possibilities that come with change.
Some of these changes — such as serving alcohol in Ohio Stadium during gamedays and the reworking of the Grade Forgiveness Rule to include all undergraduates — have been set in place, but other, long-term issues — such as off-campus safety, potential future tuition freezes and sustainability efforts — will be worked on throughout the year.
Drake sat down with The Lantern staff earlier this month to discuss some of the topics he thinks will affect students this year and what the OSU community can expect.
Tuition freezes and student finances
Drake expressed his hopes for the Board of Trustees’ decision to freeze tuition for in-state students, along with a hold on the rates for dining and room and board for all students.
“One of the ways we wanted to help protect affordability was by freezing tuition and room and board, so that someone who graduates this spring will be paying the same tuition (he or) she paid as a freshman,” he said. “We opened incredible new residences on North Campus, state-of-the-art, and we were able to keep them the same price that everything was last year by not taking advantage of an agreed-upon built-in tuition hike.”
That way, he said, students can use that money to defray their college expenses.
Although in-state tuition was frozen at $10,037 — the same price it has been since the university froze in-state tuition for the 2013-14 school year — out-of-state tuition increased 3.1 percent, bringing it to $27,362 for the 2015-16 academic year.
Tuition also rose 3 percent for current international students — the same dollar increase as out-of-state students — bringing tuition to $28,362 for the 2015-16 academic year. New international students experienced a 6.4 percent increase over the current international rate, raising tuition to $29,302.
Drake said tension often develops when universities devote themselves to keeping college affordable while providing a quality education.
“We want to continue to be better and do more. And resources help us to do that,” he said. “But we also know that money comes from someplace, and (at) colleges in general, a lot of the funding comes from students. And it is very expensive in the best of circumstances and extraordinarily expensive in many circumstances.”
One of the ways the university tried to strike a balance between these competing goals was to take $15 million from university savings and devote it to affordability grants for students, Drake said.
“We did that for the purpose of making the university more affordable, and we hope that makes a difference,” he said. “If we had low-income people who really didn’t have resources, we wouldn’t want tuition increases to decrease their opportunities to attend.”
Drake said that although keeping tuition flat forever would not be a reasonable expectation, he hopes to avoid the trend of “tuition zooms” that occur when a university holds tuition flat when state budgets allow for ample funding but then has to rapidly increase it when state support falters.
“Generally, when the state is not doing well, people are not doing well. And when people are hurting, the tuition zooms up,” he said. “What we would rather do is be more rational and say, ‘modest, appropriate, manageable increases in a predictable way are more important.’”
Administrator, faculty and staff salaries
Drake also touched on university employee salaries, which he said are based on “appropriate, fair compensation.”
“There are circumstances where people are extraordinarily talented and can contribute to a great degree. And there are parts of our enterprise that are very big business. We are a $6-billion-a-year business,” he said. “And so, we, in every case, want to have the very best people we can be doing the very best work, particularly when it is these great big things.”
Drake said the performance of individuals who can significantly contribute to the “university enterprise” is something that he thinks supports salary rates. Examples of this, Drake said, include OSU football coach Urban Meyer and physicians employed at the Wexner Medical Center.
“Urban Meyer has a really high salary. Urban Meyer is perhaps the most outstanding coach in college football today. He is very, very successful and runs an enterprise that generates enough to pay that high salary, and we are very happy to have Urban Meyer with us,” Drake said. “College sports is a different discussion, but in the arena of college sports, that is someone who has a very high salary but also performs at the very highest level.”
Meyer’s salary package for the current contract year is $5,860,000.
Drake said the same premise goes for faculty and staff members, and he added that the university acknowledges the impact salaries have on overall college affordability.
“We still want to make sure that everyone is paid something that makes sense and you can justify and say, ‘I see why we invest so much in that person. I see that it is well worth it,’” he said.
Looking to the future
Drake said members of the OSU community have a lot to be proud of.
“The main thing I would want Ohio State students and faculty and community to remember — and it is important for us to remember things like this — is what an incredibly wonderful institution we have,” he said, noting the record-breaking qualifications of the class of 2019, the ranking of the Wexner Medical Center by U.S. News and World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” and several other accomplishments by university faculty and students.
Drake said these accomplishments are a “reflection of a really outstanding university” and he expressed his desire to continue the forward momentum.
“To be able to say those things, ‘most’ and ‘best,’ what a great sentence or paragraph that is. And those things are all true for us now,” he said. “Each of these things is really a great experience that I have tried to make sure I appreciate fully. And it is all of them together that makes this such a special place. I feel blessed to be here and I am excited every day.”