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Pureval: Current students should be OSU’s emphasis

For the last four years, Ohio State’s tuition has surged enormously, in many cases pricing people out of attending the university. We have asked students to sacrifice so much, to take out more loans, to work longer hours – and what do we have to show for it? How has the average undergraduate’s experience improved? Why are students working so hard to afford OSU? The sad truth is today’s students are bearing the burden of supporting the OSU of tomorrow.

Somewhere in recent years, we have managed to dilute the enormous promise of the Academic Plan – a plan which talks about increasing the number of faculty in the classrooms and improving the intellectual climate on campus – into one simple, uninspired goal: Recruit students who will improve our rankings in U.S. News.

It has to end.

Unfortunately, however, recruiting at OSU is not limited to the already-generous funds allocated to the Office of Admissions; financial aid and the Honors Program are other areas that drain resources from current students to shower money on future ones.

Consider, for example, the Maximus Competition, where 1,450 incoming students – each of whom have already been awarded $1,800 per year, regardless of their financial need – are invited to compete in a writing contest so that they can win even more money – 1 in 12 win either full-tuition or half-tuition scholarships. What this means, essentially, is while low-income students are shying away from applying to a school with skyrocketing tuition raises and while minority applications are down again, we are giving away over $800,000 to kids who don’t necessarily need the help and all for responding to an essay.

But as flawed as financial aid seems to be, it is nothing compared to the outrageous problems of our Honors Program. Following a recent report issued by representatives from the Universities of Georgia, North Carolina and Penn State – where they called our Honors Program “lacking” relative to other universities, more concerned with recruiting than offering a “superior educational experience” and devoid of mission and vision – OSU finally has agreed to make some changes to strengthen requirements. Yet these changes are meaningless if they do not accompany a commitment to shrink the program’s size and use honors as an intellectual reward, rather than a recruiting tool.

Understand that while the Undergraduate Student Government has many objections to honors – some of which have been met with understanding, some which have not – the major problem, as we have stated for three years now, is the sheer number of students admitted to the program. And what’s most frustrating is everyone knows there is no reason for an honors program of over 5,000 students other than for recruitment purposes.

In both of these areas – financial aid and honors – the amount of funds directed specifically toward attracting new students is to the serious determinant of improving OSU for current ones. While USG hardly would quiver over such actions if we had a budget surplus, it is unconscionable to ask current students to pay more to help attract future ones.

OSU’s administrators need to realize that we are reaching a crescendo, given the state’s inadequate financial support and the surging costs of higher education. We can no longer do all the things we want to do, so we need to save every dollar and do the things we have to do – that is, ensure all undergraduates receive a quality academic experience, that they have a chance to work with professors and enroll in small classes and that they are not scrimping and saving to afford an institution more concerned about its reputation than its commitment to students.

To that end, USG will support no new tuition hikes. Further, we will lobby the Statehouse to ensure that OSU is not exempt from the recent 6 percent tuition caps proposed by Ohio Gov. Bob Taft. We also will work with the university to mandate that the entire 6 percent is used only for financial aid or the addition of new faculty members so that more undergraduates have an opportunity to learn from tenure-track professors. The number one priority of this university must be to hire more faculty and to offer all of our students small, intimate classes. We will continue to pour over budgets in an attempt to recommend further cuts and ways to redirect more money toward current students.

Colleges, especially public universities, were created out of a great and substantial belief that all people – not just the gifted, wealthy or elite – have the right to an education. Higher learning is, at its core, an attempt to teach the masses, inspire creative thought and intellectualism and work toward a world where people can be whatever they want to be and where possibilities are endless and opportunities abound.

The tenuous balance of maintaining our status as a land-grant public university, while dramatically increasing tuition, is no longer working. There can be no identity crisis on this, the most fundamental of issues. If OSU no longer wishes to be an institution that educates the masses, if it aspires to be something loftier, to become Michigan or Berkeley or other elite public universities that are more selective and more expensive, then the administration needs to come forward and admit that once and for all. And then, finally, at long last, all of us can debate the basic question of who we are and what we aspire to be.

Aftab Pureval, the Undergraduate Student Government president, delivered these thoughts in his State of the University last week. He is interested in your feedback on these and other issues and can be reached at pureval.1@osu.edu.

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