Want to Talk About Equity? Then Look at How the State Funds the Futures of Ohio’s K-12 Graduates
Taxpayers funds should be focused on building a jobs ecosystem tailored to ensuring that everyone gets the chance to reach their God-given potential. Today’s funding model absolutely fails to do that.
According to the Thomas Fordham Institute, Ohio has roughly 1.6 million kids in K-12 public schools, with 475,000 of those kids in high school. A quarter of those 1.6 million kids reside in urban areas where Ohio’s public schools achieve mediocre-to-poor results. For very granular data, visit the link to see exactly how Ohio’s public schools are doing. Each year, approximately 50% of Ohio’s high school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year institution (“Higher Ed”). Of that 50%, only 31% attain AT LEAST a two-year degree after six years. To put the math more bluntly, here is what the numbers look like:
118,750 High School Graduates Annually (public so excluding private, parochial, and home);
59,375 Enroll in “Higher Ed”;
Six years later, only 18,406 of the 118,750 high school graduates will attain at least a two-year degree;
That means just 15.5% of Ohio high school graduates earn a Higher Ed degree by age 24;
59,375 DON’T enroll in Higher Ed but start working (or continue to work at jobs they’ve been doing);
Another 40,969 join those 59,375 after failing out of Higher Ed, presumably with education loan debt (which Joe Biden wants the other 77,781 to pay for via federal taxes and national debt);
That means, 100,344 annual graduates, or 84.5%, of Ohio high school graduates end up without Higher Ed degrees; and
Thus, every four years, Ohio’s K-12 system produces 73,624 graduates who will eventually earn a Higher Ed degree and another 401,376 who will not.
Ugly. Beyond ugly.
The biennial budget just passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by Governor Mike DeWine allocated $6.02 billion to the Ohio Department of Higher Education. These funds “support credential and certificate programs or support the operations of Ohio Technical Centers that provide education and training through full-time and part-time adult career-technical training programs.” In addition, the budget appropriated $50.4 million to the Ohio Department of Development for the "TechCred program, which provides reimbursements to eligible employers for costs they incur to train current and prospective employees earning a technology-focused microcredential.”
More specifically, the largest portion of the budget was for Higher Ed operations related to granting degrees, which totaled $4.85 billion of the $6.56 billion, or 74% of all funds. At the same time, the budget allocated $141.7 million for nondegree credentials and certificates covering the TechCred program, Ohio Technical Centers, Talent Ready Grant programs, Ohio Work Ready grants, the Commercial Truck Driver Student Aid Program, and program and project support. Now, for full transparency, there is some mixing of the two large pots of funds in that a small portion of the Higher Ed funds go to nondegree credentials and certificates. That said, the vast majority of funding supports the acquisition of 2- or 4-year degrees (or at least the running of colleges and universities that bestow those degrees).
To briefly sum things up, Ohio policymakers allocate $2.43 billion annually for the 73,624 public school graduates to earn a 2- or 4-year degree and a mere $70.6 million for the 401,376 public school graduates to earn a nondegree certificate or credentials. While the math is imperfect due to the six-year timeline to earn a degree, the nondegree sums average just $176 per high school graduate, as the degree sums average $33,006 per high school graduate, which is a whopping 188 times more funds. As you can imagine, a substantial majority of those students going into Higher Ed come from upper middle class-to-wealthy families who arguably need less help than those from poor-to-middle class families.
Lest you forget, one of Ohio’s U.S. Senators graduated from high school then went into the military—no, not the one who went to Yale University as an undergraduate and has spent his entire life among America’s elite living off the public dole. Only after serving in the military did J.D. Vance enroll at Ohio State then make his way to Yale University and among elites thereafter:-). Vance is one of the lucky ones who managed to scramble from a poor-to-middle class life to a wealthy life. The vast majority aren’t that lucky.
Maybe heavily funding Higher Ed made sense when the avenues to the Middle Class were more abundant for large swaths of high school graduates or even dropouts. After decades of credential bias in which having a college degree served as a proxy for the capability to work in a business setting and the gutting of manufacturing by China and other developing countries beginning in 2000, however, large swaths of high school graduates now face a much steeper climb to the Middle Class. Dedicating so much taxpayer funding to Higher Ed for already privileged Ohioans when a far greater number of their poor-to-middle class peers need a boost is pure classism at work. Most, if not all, policymakers hold college degrees and many of those degrees came from Ohio public colleges and universities, so pouring tax dollars into their alma maters turns those policymakers into kings within Higher Ed.
There simply is no reason why in 2023 and beyond policymakers should so heavily favor Higher Ed over coding, trade, tech, or other innovative programs aimed at creating more avenues for Ohio’s nondegree high school graduates to have a pathway to the Middle Class. For those who support the status quo funding allocation, please explain to the 85% of Ohio high school graduates why their classmate's choice to enroll in Higher Ed should get 188 times more funding than the choices in front of them—funding, by the way, coming for their jobs and their parent’s jobs via taxes.
Now, I cannot fathom why policymakers would provide ANY funding to graduate programs for either liberal arts Ph.Ds or law, medical, or business degrees not ranked in the top 100 in America. The last things Ohio needs are more Ph.Ds in art history or lawyers with middling academic credentials. In fact, Miami University is looking to nix eighteen majors where there just aren’t many students. Under Gordon Gee’s leadership, West Virginia University is moving aggressively to deal with the realities of both demographics and the reversal of the college credential bias. With an increasing number of high school graduates looking to skip college and businesses becoming open to hiring such workers, there never has been a better time to reform Ohio’s post-high school environment than now.
As I laid out in my now defunct gubernatorial agenda for Ohio, we must rebalance Ohio’s Higher Ed, tech, and trade schools to reflect the reality that 85% of Ohio high school graduates don’t ever earn a 2- or 4-year degree. Keep in mind, NOT ONE STATE IS MAKING THE MOVE TO REBALANCE TAXPAYER INVESTMENTS IN HIGHER ED VERSUS NON-HIGHER ED FOR HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES, SO OHIO FOR ONCE COULD BECOME THE NATIONAL LEADER ON THIS ISSUE. As a state that lost on net nearly 700,000 Ohioans ages 10 to 54 over the last two decades, Ohio must enact reforms to ensure we keep our upcoming and current workforce and attract them from other states. Here are a few items that should be on that agenda:
The $33,006 to $176 enormous difference in funds allocated to support their futures between degree and nondegree high school graduates needs to be more equal, as there are innovative ways to support the nondegree kids to keep them climbing the economic ladder;
Policymakers should require all of Ohio’s public 2- and 4-year institutions to provide them with hard data on the number of students majoring in every major available as part of a Higher Ed reform so that funds can be limited to degrees in which Ohio’s economy is benefited;
Make the tough decision on closing some of Ohio’s 2- and 4-year colleges and universities so investment in the rest can push programs into the top 100 nationally;
An in-depth survey of Ohio college and university graduates should be done to determine the average pay of each major to help determine if taxpayer investments are worth the cost; and
A comprehensive inventory of Ohio’s jobs economy and needs should be done to align post-K-12 funding to those needs.
We spend an awful lot of time talking about equity in America these days. Too little of that time focuses on how we can support the futures of the supermajority of K-12 graduates who don’t earn a degree. Instead of funding palatial Higher Ed dining halls and dorms or professors who do little teaching, taxpayers funds should be focused on building a jobs ecosystem tailored to ensuring that as many of the 118,750 annual high school graduates get the chance to reach their God-given potential as possible. Today’s funding model absolutely fails to do that.
P.S. Special thanks to Ohio House of Representative Beth Lear for providing me with the budget breakdown via Jason Glover at the Legislative Service Commission.