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Ohio Sends Dollars with Students to Private Schools, Forgoes Review of Financial Needs

52 million state dollars went to Ohio students attending in-state private colleges last year. The Ohio Board of Regents distributed the college aid in nine-hundred-dollar chunks by way of the Ohio Student Choice Grant. The Board requires that every grant recipient be an Ohio resident attending one of the state's 63 private colleges but does not require review of a family's income.

At a time when Ohio ranks 40th nationwide in its financial assistance to public colleges, the Ohio Student Choice Grant's blind eye to financial need sparks debate about its approach to aid. The Ohio Board of Regents declined to discuss on the program, insisting the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio understood its importance much better.

President of the AICUO, Todd Jones, claims the grant is a fair and crucial part of the aid packages the Board of Regents gives each year. He says, "In the same way that the subsidy to public institutions' undergraduates is made on the basis of their citizenship in Ohio, so is the discounted benefit in the Ohio Choice Grant."

He adds its aims are the same as they were when the General Assembly began the program in 1983, explaining that, "The idea was twofold. One: increase the number of students who are remaining in our state to encourage them to then live their lives in Ohio and grow their families here and careers. And two: that after paying state taxes, that investment is in some small way made up for by this subsidy of the Ohio Choice Grant."

Jones insists the grant program has made good on its original purpose. When it took effect in the mid-1980s forty percent of the students enrolled in the state's private colleges were from Ohio. Since then, it has climbed to seventy percent.

But to Education Policy Director at the Buckeye Institute, Matthew Carr, the program has strayed from its original intentions. He says, "The grants were designed to provide students with help going to one of Ohio's private colleges. I think now, however, it has sort of grown into a program that basically is there to assist students with going to private colleges that probably don't need the help."

Jones on the other hand argues the Choice Grant does not favor wealthy students. He cites research saying four out of ten undergrads at both public and private colleges in Ohio reported family incomes of less than fifty-thousand dollars per year. In fact, he says, the grant could help them meet their last sliver of need. "If after Federal Pell Grants, after grants from the institution, your remaining need is three thousand dollars, nine hundred is actually a significant part of what you ultimately would otherwise need to pay."

The Student Choice Grant is not the only grant the Board of Regents gives out each year. It distributes aid through ten other programs, most of which are based on need or special circumstances. Students can receive a maximum of twenty-five hundred dollars for a public school and five thousand for a private one. Despite disagreements between the Independent Colleges group and the Buckeye Institute, each of their representatives calls for change in Ohio's approach to higher education. Carr of the Buckeye Institute says the state should adopt a student-centered funding system:

"Right now we have this piecemealed system of funding our higher education. We have multiple grant programs, scholarship programs, categories, budgets. I think the best way would be to fund our higher education system so that as each student decides which college or university that they want to go to based on their needs, that the money goes with them to that institution."

Carr proposes such a system would eliminate the dark corners where money collects as financial processes become more complicated. He says it would ensure Ohio's students get the best education and the tax dollars that fund student financial aid find the most direct route to the lecture hall.