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Students and educators call on Ohio lawmakers to restore need-based college aid

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College students and professors gathered at the Ohio Statehouse today to announce the formation of the Ohio Higher Education Coalition, an alliance of higher education advocacy groups. They called on Governor Kasich and Ohio legislators to restore cuts made to higher education funding in recent years.

In 2009 the Ohio legislature reduced the Ohio College Opportunity Grant (OCOG) from $395 million to $171 million, and required low-income students at community colleges to use federal Pell grants to cover tuition expenses before using state grants. The changes made nearly 20,000 community college students ineligible for the OCOG, the coalition said.

"My family didn't have extra funds to save for my education," said student Kiala Riel. "Before I transferred to to OSU, I was working 40 hours a week and taking a full schedule of community college classes at night.

"It's tough to prioritize between school and work when you don't have any other options," Riel said. "Grants like the OCOG help ease the strain on low-income students like me."

The coalition blames the Ohio student debt crisis on staggering tuition increases resulting from the steady decline in state support for higher education.

According to Ohio Rep. Christina Hagan (R-Alliance), Ohio ranks "ninth in the country in the amount of average student debt." A study by the Project on Student Debt found that about 68% of Ohio college students graduating in 2012 had debt averaging $29,000.

"There is no excuse for an academic system in Ohio that punishes with that kind of crippling financial burden," said John McNay, president of the Ohio chapter of the American Association of University Professors. "We need the legislature and governor to refocus their commitment on having truly public institutions of higher education."

"The Pell grant alone doesn't take care of a lot outside of tuition cost," said Brandon Whitehorn, a student at Wright State University and a member of the Ohio Student Association. "The pricing of textbooks, parking, and even day care weighs in on the decisions of people pursung higher education.

"Why should someone have to dig deep into school debt in order to better themselves and their family?"

OHEC member organizations also include the Ohio Education Association, the Ohio Federation of Teachers, and the Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association.

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