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Ohio State officials talk balance of land grant, global university

Ohio State’s institutional identity is a balancing act between focusing on students in Ohio while spreading its reach to the rest of the world. It’s a challenge one university official said keeps him up at night.

The university was founded in 1870 as a land grant institution, designated to receive benefits of the 1862 Morrill Act to teach agriculture, military tactics and mechanics, as well as classical studies.

In 144 years, OSU has come a long way. With global gateways in Shanghai and Mumbai, India, and plans to open another in Brazil this year, Ohio’s flagship institution is far from where it was in 1878 when it graduated its first class of six men.

Forming a union between OSU’s land grant mission — securing access for Ohio residents — and global aspirations — wanting to find the best and brightest students wherever they might be — can be a challenging feat, said Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz.

“There is a reason for going outside and recruiting students from outside of the country as well as other states, and that is to make Ohio better by bringing those people into Ohio and having them stay here,” he said in a Tuesday interview with The Lantern. “So I think what you do is you make sure that you, in my opinion, you keep the balance towards the state and not towards the outside. I know of institutions in this country that have more than half of their student body come from out of state. I think that would not be acceptable here at Ohio State because I think we will have abandoned a good part of the land grant initiative.”

Accomplishing those goals simultaneously — not one at the expense of the other — is tricky, Dolan Evanovich, vice president for strategic enrollment planning, said.

“That is really what I get up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about. How do we do that, how do we put our policies, our programs, our processes in place that we can accomplish those sometimes very different goals,” Evanovich said in a Jan. 31 interview. “And sometimes they are hard, that’s the challenge of being at a complex place like Ohio State that has multiple goals and missions.”

Evanovich described OSU as being distinct in Ohio compared to major institutions in other states. At its core, the mission is divided. The university is both the state’s land grant and flagship institution, while in Michigan, for example, Michigan State is the land grant university and the University of Michigan is the flagship.

“The expectation is, from the taxpayers and the elected leaders, is that we’re going to do both, not at the expense of the other, but both together,” he said.

However, Interim President Joseph Alutto had a different perspective. Instead of either of those ideals having the ability to detract from the other, he said the bottom line is access to a good education for all students.

“The line I always use, because it’s absolutely true, is, ‘I’ve never met a parent or a student that said to me, I want access to mediocrity.’ It always has been, ‘I want access to the greatest excellence that I can get access to,’” Alutto said in a Feb. 11 interview with The Lantern. “You can’t live the world we’re in now unless you have a global perspective. You can’t understand that world, you can’t even be a good citizen really unless you understand that world, so I don’t see where’s there’s a contradiction between our efforts to be truly global in scope of diversity and also our commitment to a land grant heritage.”

OSU has programs that align with both missions, including Access 88, which aims to spread the importance of education to each of Ohio’s 88 counties and increase access to higher education, and starting this summer, the university is set to offer pre-orientation for Chinese students before they embark for the U.S. to aid them in adjusting to a new country and OSU.

Xin Ni Au, a third-year in human nutrition, said she has been well received at OSU, and has noticed the Office of International Affairs has been working to improve student experiences.

“I feel like over this past year … OSU has made a lot of efforts for outreach for the international students,” she said.

However, she said it would be nice to see “more balance” between international students and U.S. students on campus.

Alena Hayden, a fourth-year in strategic communication from Strasburg, Ohio, said she felt like OSU didn’t do much to reach students from her high school two hours northeast of campus. While reaching Ohioans was important, she said having a mix of students is beneficial as well.

“Having a more diverse university I for sure think would be more beneficial,” Hayden said.

As of August 2013, OSU’s student body was comprised of about 79 percent Ohioans, 12 percent out-of-state students and 9.4 percent international students, a composition that has come a long way since 24 people met at Old Neil Farm in 1873 – better known today as the University District.

Finding harmony between the missions, Evanovich said, is necessary for the university to be successful.

“It’s balancing, when you have two missions like a land grant university and a flagship university, I think that the challenge is for us,” Evanovich said. “We want to do both of those at the same time, not one of them at the expense of the other, but both of them simultaneously, and that’s the real trick.”


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