Proposed legislation in Ohio that means to improve workforce development, make it easier for community colleges to launch four-year nursing degrees and bolster free speech protections is drawing criticism from some of the state's colleges.
The bill, sponsored by a Republican state senator, would allow Ohio's community colleges to more easily launch bachelor's degree programs, create a voucher program for students who left college without completing a credential and mandate that faculty members be cautious about expressing their personal views in the classroom.
While colleges support some of the bill's measures, many four-year schools say its passage could lead to community colleges launching programs that encroach on their offerings.
The Ohio Association of Community Colleges, which represents nearly two-dozen schools, largely favors the bill. In written testimony, an association representative contended that allowing community colleges to more easily offer bachelor's degrees would help address nursing shortages and help nurses meet new requirements that they have four-year credentials.
Ohio has allowed community colleges to offer bachelor's programs for several years, so long as they demonstrate that they meet a workforce need and don't duplicate programs at the state's universities. However, the bill would remove the latter requirement.
Several four-year colleges have balked at that element of the proposal. They say the measure would push students to take bachelor's programs at community colleges, which tend to have lower on-time completion rates than four-year nonprofits. Four-year colleges with nursing programs, in particular, have pushed back, saying the changes wouldn't address the underlying issues that contribute to shortages in that field, such as limited clinical site availability.
Some colleges are pushing for the state to instead invest money into existing nursing programs and to bolster articulation agreements between community colleges and universities.
That's not the only part of the bill drawing opposition. The Ohio Faculty Council pushed back against bill language that would require faculty members not to "suppress free speech" or "shield individuals" from hearing someone's views.
"There is little evidence that there is any suppression of speech happening in classrooms," Council Chair Ben Givens wrote in a testimony. "Faculty and students have hundreds of thousands of interactions each semester, and yet few if any instances of what this bill points to are ever reported."
The council also opposed a bill provision that would amp up administrative reporting requirements at colleges. It would mandate annual reports on admits' demographics and qualifications — including GPAs, standardized test scores and other factors considered when making admissions decisions — as well as how colleges are using their tuition and fees revenue and how much they spend on mental health and wellness services.