May 21, 2014. Mark that date on your calendar – it could be the low
water mark in Van Wert County history, the point where real change
began. This past Wednesday, Ohio’s Board of Regents designated Northwest
State as the community college provider for Van Wert County.
so significant about that, you ask? Northwest State has been in the
county for years now. What’s significant is that it clears the way for
that institution to begin making real investment in our county. Prior to
Wednesday, Van Wert County was one of the few undesignated counties in
the entire state. Although some institutions, including Northwest State,
tested our waters with a smattering of courses, no one was willing to
make a full-fledged commitment.
Northwest State being designated
as the provider keeps other colleges from swooping in and undercutting
any success it might develop here. If it demonstrates a profitable
market, without a designation, others could come and start offering the
same courses. I know, it sounds like a monopoly, which normally isn’t
good. In the world of higher education, though, it’s what allows a
community college some security to invest.
Now, when I ran for
commissioner, I wanted a branch campus, not a community college. I have
since changed my mind. This is better, and for almost every reason. In
the Lima News just last weekend there was an article about how
enrollment is down at every Ohio State branch in the state, dropping 20%
since 2009. Lima’s branch is down 28% in that span. This is, no doubt,
more than partially attributable to the options now available at UNOH in
Lima. But branch campuses are receding because community colleges can
now do what they used to do and more – and cheaper.
In the past,
branch colleges offered affordable, transferrable college credits close
to home. That can now be accomplished at community colleges. I’ve
written in past columns about TAG (Transfer Assurance Guarantee)
classes. You spend more than half your time at a major campus getting
the liberal arts taken care of for that bachelor’s degree – math,
science, social studies, history, etc. Now these classes can be taken at
a community college and they are required by law to be accepted at any
Further, community colleges can offer
certificate courses. Not everyone needs a four-year degree. Many
employers just need someone that has a rudimentary understanding of
computers, electronics, or industrial maintenance. The jobs of the
future are going to require an education, but not necessarily abstract
thinking about Napoleon’s mistakes at Waterloo or the Theory of
Northwest State can bring any of the outlying benefits
of bigger institutions through partnering. According to Mari Yoder, its
Vice President for Institutional Advancement, that is something
Northwest State already does and will look to do more. For example, it
offers a plastics program with the University of Toledo and bachelor’s
degrees and MBAs with Bluffton University. Yoder says the programs at
community colleges evolve around the needs of the community.
welding program was shrinking for years until six or seven years ago
when a company located in Hicksville that needed a lot of welders. Then
some other companies came along needing welders and now that’s a big
program we offer again.”
A local example is a program on windmill
maintenance Northwest State is working on in a partnership with Vantage.
It also already partners with Wright State on some courses. Yoder says a
consortium with multiple colleges would not only be accepted, but
What used to be
called dual enrollment and post secondary education is morphing into
something called College Credit Plus. The larger presence of Northwest
State locally can allow something like Becca Gear, a Patrick Henry
senior who will graduate soon. Gear, recently featured in the Defiance
Crescent News, took classes through Northwest State while in high
school. She will start school next fall at Ohio State University’s main
campus – as a junior.
After taking the College Credit Plus courses
in high school, Gear has an associate’s degree and the first two years
of college completed. Her cost for completing those two years of college
in high school: $2,000 for the courses she took through the summer
(classes during the school year are generally free.) Those two years at
Ohio State main campus: around $50,000. That’s real money bro.
Northwest State, the cost of a credit hour is $146. According to Yoder,
the cheapest rate you’ll find at a university is somewhere closer to
$300. Even if you don’t get it done in high school as Becca Gear did,
you can better afford it close to home at any point in your life.
colleges have been around for decades, but not here. One is coming at
the perfect time. Whatever might fill that Megasite (or Super Site as it
now seems to want to be known) is going to love this for the
development of its workforce and for its workforce’s kids. Mark May 21,
2014, on your calendar. It was the day that Van Wert, an aging community
with a steady population decline, got younger for the first time in as
long as anyone can remember.