Updated Fri, May 3, 2013 10:35 am
Proposed legislation that would require Ohio public colleges and universities to charge in-state tuition to students who they help to vote in the state could potentially mean a revenue cut of $12 million for Ohio University.
According to the Associated Press, an amendment added to the House-passed biannual budget could discourage schools from giving on-campus students utility bills or letters that could be used as identification at the polls. Students can vote in Ohio if they have lived in the state for at least 30 days, but they must provide proof of residency. Because a student identification card does not qualify as proof of residency for voting purposes, colleges and universities can provide utility bills or letters to serve as that official documentation.
However, colleges may be more hesitant to provide such documentation if it equals a loss of revenue received from out-of-state surcharges. Ohio University’s out-of-state surcharge is currently $4,482 per semester.
If the legislation goes through, OU Budget Director Chad Mitchell says it could cost Ohio University $12 million. He said the estimate took into account mostly undergraduates and excluded international students.
In fall 2012, OU’s Athens campus had 14,547 in-state students enrolled and 2,460 out-of-state students. At the graduate school level, OU’s enrollment was nearly split between resident and non-resident students. In total, of the 21,724 enrolled on the Athens campus in fall 2012, 4,591 did not claim Ohio residency.
If the university were to take a $12 million cut in tuition revenue, Mitchell said the result would “clearly be substantial” and lead to a loss of jobs at the university. He said a significant number of positions would have to be reduced if that were the case.
While Ohio University has seen revenue cuts in the past, Mitchell said $12 million would be large in comparison to those prior cuts.
In a prepared statement, OU President Roderick McDavis said of the proposed legislation, “The financial impact of that loss would significantly impede our ability to build strong academic programs, maintain our campus infrastructure and provide a transformative learning experience for our students.”
And McDavis isn’t alone in his concerns. According to the Associated Press, “Higher education institutions fear the move could collectively cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in reduced tuition revenue, particularly if students see such documentation as their avenue to lower tuition bills.”
The AP reported that Democrats say that the amendment is part of a national attempt by Republicans to restrict voting by constituencies that turned out in large numbers for President Obama in the last two presidential elections.
Richard Kinsley, executive director of Ohio Campus Compact, a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition of college and university presidents that encourages civic involvement of students, told the AP, “It really holds the university [to] having to make decisions about voter rights. If I’m going to lose out-of-state tuition, that puts the university in a bind to decide, ‘Do I honor the rights of the student to register to vote or do I have to pay attention to the bottom-line budget?’ If I lose all those dollars, then tuition goes up for everyone.”
House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) defended the amendment.
“The real issue for local areas in particular [is], what happens when somebody from New York City registers to vote,” he told the AP. “How do they vote on a school levy? How do they vote on a sheriff’s race …? To me, there is a significant question, particularly the levies, as to what having people who don’t have to pay for them would do in term so voting on those things.”
When asked about the potential dollar impact on universities that experienced cuts in state funding in the last budget, Batchelder told the Associated Press, “That’s a rather gigantic amount of money. I don’t know how to respond to it.”
Used with permission of the Athens Messenger.