On a clear, hot, 90-degree day in Columbus, Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic Party's endorsed candidate for governor this midterm election year, unveiled the College Affordability Plan, a major higher education proposal that includes vocational training and is designed to return Ohio to quality, affordable higher education.
FitzGerald joined parents, students, educators and young professionals who gathered on the campus of Columbus State Community College, where he contrasted his plan with actions taken by first-term Republican Gov. John Kasich that reduced state spending on higher education, forcing many of the Buckeye State's stable of universities and colleges to pump up tuition to cover the gap Kasich left when he withheld billions in order to claim he balanced a state budget without raising taxes.
Rising tuition costs, which are being born by students through debt terms that are unforgiving, are to FitzGerald like rising taxes are at the local level, the natural consequences of Gov. Kasich's balancing of his state budget by withholding state assistance to local governments, schools and now institutions of higher education. Gov. Kasich believes with little proof to back him up that income tax cuts create jobs, even though Ohio's future is tied to the education and training of its future workforce, which as graduating seniors are leaving the state to attend less costly colleges in other states.
Watch 60 Seconds Ohio and hear FitzGerald discuss his plan and answer reporter questions.
FitzGerald spoke of the importance of college affordability, being forced for much the media availability event to speak over the din of idling buses at a near by bus top and a rumbling Brinks Truck stopped at the traffic light at the intersection. "As a parent with two sons in college and two daughters in high school, I understand the financial challenges facing Ohio's families with increasing tuition costs. As Governor, I will work to ensure college and post secondary education is quality and affordable. When Ohio’s students pay tuition, they should be paying for a world-class education."
The FitzGerald plan made public today contains three parts: 1. Expanding the college savings program, model on one he started in Cuyahoga County, to the entire state. Unique in the nation, FitzGerald in his capacity as the Executive for Cuyahoga County, Ohio's most populous county, it creates college savings accounts for new Ohio kindergartners. A 2010 study shows that children with college savings accounts are seven times more likely to attend college than those without. 2. Restore funds to the Ohio College Opportunity Grant to help high school students and young adults afford college without having to take out massive loans. Ohio residents owe $3.75 billion in Federal Student Loans, the FitzGerald campaign notes, making the case that it hurts the economy and threatens youth's future. 3. Advocate for state legislation to allow graduates and former students to refinance their student loans.
Larry Christman, a former State Representative and education reform advocate, was on hand for the announcement today. "The state must return to a leadership role in helping students achieve their goals. It is essential that we make college more affordable so Ohio residents can receive their education and achieve their goals," he said.
Others not present who nonetheless expressed their opinion include U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, who said, "It is crucial that we make college more affordable for Ohio’s students. Ed FitzGerald’s plan will not only assist Ohioans in achieving their goals, but it will also make Ohio a more desirable place to raise families and start businesses." In the last ten days, the bill aimed at tackling student debt, which now tops $1 trillion nationwide, sponsored by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and that got a vote from Sen. Brown, a Democrat, was defeated when 37 Republicans including Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman voted against it.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman said in prepared remarks that expanding early college programs offers "first-generation college students a leg-up and cost savings to attend college upon graduation." Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who won her last race with 50-plus percent of the vote, said every child deserves the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and Ohio should be a place where that can happen.
U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, one of dwindling number of Democratic Congressman, calls FitzGerald’s college savings plan a much-needed investment in Ohio’s future.
Students also voiced their hopes. Taylor Meyers, Marietta College Student Body President, said, "Making college more affordable is critical in allowing me and other students to pursue our career goals without fear of shouldering crippling debt upon graduation." Benjamin Lynn, University of Toledo student, said, "The increase in college tuition over the last few years has been a huge burden to me and so many other students . It’s just common sense that when we’re facing higher debt than ever that student aid should increase as well. He agrees with FitzGerald that more financial aid show be flowing to students immediately.
Behind in money and name recognition to the well-funded and well-known Kasich, FitzGerald's plan hopes to capture some traction with voters, whose enthusiasm for midterm election politics is down. Gov. Kasich hasn’t done nearly enough to stop it, FitzGerald's campaign Nick Buis told reporters via email, but he awaits expected attacks from Republicans, who he said will try to attack this plan as frivolous or too expensive.
"But we know this plan is key to putting the American Dream within reach for thousands of Ohio families," Buis said.