Committee assignments by the Speaker of the House provide members an opportunity to dig deeper into a variety of subject areas that may impact the constituents they serve. During this 134th General Assembly, Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, assigned me to the five significant committees, two of which are the House Finance Committee and the Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education. Through service on these committees, it became quickly apparent of the need to prioritize our higher education institutions within this year’s state budget bill. With the governor’s signature on House Bill 110, I can attest that we followed through on this endeavor.
As your state representative, I was involved in important discussions surrounding the budget when it came to ensuring we included investments for research, innovation in skills-building for jobs, and creating positive campus environments for our students to thrive as they become the workforce of our future. Bowling Green State University (BGSU) and Owens Community College (OCC) are pillars of our communities here in Wood County, and there was no question I was going to fight for their priorities in this legislation.
Both institutions contribute heavily to Northwest Ohio. Not only is BGSU currently the largest employer here in Wood County, it joins OCC in serving as hubs of education for future workers by offering opportunities to earn degrees, specialized certificates, and other necessary skills and education in order to augment our robust workforce. Many employers throughout the region depend on graduates from local institutions of higher education to fill unique and, at times, highly-technical positions.
To provide a brief overview of investments made through this legislation, the single largest line-item for higher education is the state share of instruction — Ohio's primary mechanism of subsidizing the instructional costs at Ohio's public institutions of higher education for the purpose of reducing the cost of tuition for Ohio residents. We increased funding by nearly $19 million for each of the next two years.
We continued to put our college students first by providing $220 million for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, which is our state’s largest need-based aid program for students. Additionally, the budget bill includes multiple programs focused on our workforce – an initiative of focus of OCC. Funding for workforce purposes went towards Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine (STEMM) education, commercial truck driver training, and incentivizing workforce training.
A trained, and educated, workforce is vital to our region as evidenced by companies who have chosen Wood County to make their generational investments. Take for example the construction jobs, and the thousands of follow-on jobs that will be created by Peloton’s first-in-the-nation factory being constructed in Troy Township. The First Solar Inc. expansion project in Lake Township, or the state-of-the art Amazon Distribution Center in Rossford. I have no doubt these business decisions are tied, in part, to our effective higher education institutions.
Not only did we incentivize workforce in the new budget, but we also wanted to give students the opportunity to return to the classroom. This is why we included appropriations for second chance grants, which helps get students back to complete their degrees. Another incentive applied to graduate school students being granted in-state tuition residency status for out out-of-state students who pursue a graduate program if that student completed a bachelor’s degree program at an Ohio institution of higher education and immediately enrolls in an advanced degree.
Additionally, as many students prepare to return to the campuses this fall we made sure to fund campus safety initiatives. We specifically provided $1.2 million for the development of training and implementation of best practices to prevent and respond to sexual violence. This allocation is aimed at protecting students and staff alike.
Others items concerning our regional institutions of BGSU and OCC includes the Rural University Program and the Ohio National Guard Scholarship. I was a staunch advocate in pushing for $800,000 for the Rural University Program; this is a collaboration with several campuses to provide communities with economic development, public administration and public health services.
Lastly, I would like to recognize BGSU for recently being ranked number one in the Midwest and fifth overall of top universities for veterans and active military students by the Military Times. As Chairman of the Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committee, I fully supported expanding eligibility in the budget for students to participate in the Ohio National Guard Scholarship Program. This program is designed to encourage Ohioans to serve in the Ohio National Guard while earning a degree at an Ohio public institution of higher education.
I’m proud of our budget process throughout this past year and it’s gratifying to know that our work down at the Statehouse is going to positively impact so many students right here in Wood County. BGSU and OCC have true dedication to our area and students, and they deserve the true investments that are coming to them within the budget bill over the next two years.