COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Choosing which college or university to attend is perhaps the largest financial decision a high school senior will make. A proposed state law seeks to make that choice a little bit simpler – or at least, more transparent.
House Bill 27, introduced by Reps. Adam Mathews (R-Lebanon) and Jim Thomas (R-Jackson Twp.), would require public colleges and universities in Ohio to disclose key financial information to prospective students before the enrollment deadline. Dubbed the “Higher Education Return on Investment Act,” the bill homogenizes the information students receive about the cost of attendance, available financial aid, and expected post-graduation income and debts. Mathews and Thomas said they hope, in turn, more people will receive degrees from Ohio institutions – and remain here after graduation.
Addressing college affordability was an issue Mathews said he repeatedly heard about while campaigning. In the fall, President Joe Biden announced his plan to forgive millions of Americans’ student loans — a plan whose constitutionality the Supreme Court will decide in the coming months.
The Biden plan, which forgives up $10,000 for most borrowers and $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients, still leaves a hefty chunk left of the $34,721 Ohioans have on average in student loans, according to research by the Education Data Initiative.
“[Biden’s plan] seemed like it was treating a symptom, but not the cause,” Mathews said.
Under his and Thomas’ bill, the chancellor of higher education would develop a template for universities to use when disclosing financial cost and aid to newly accepted, full-time students. Included on the form are an itemized list of costs of attendance, each student’s expected student loan monthly repayments, and all available sources of financial aid for which the student is eligible, including work-study programs and scholarships.
Colleges and universities would also be required to include income ranges for the most recent graduation cohort and the cohort from five years before the accepted student’s admission. If the student has been accepted into a specific major or school, the institution must also provide income ranges for students enrolled in those programs.
“The income data gives students a realistic analysis of what they’re likely to earn right out of college,” Thomas said. “The return on investment for attending Ohio institutions is generally quite high.”
Mathews and Thomas hope that by compelling colleges to give prospective students detailed information about expected costs and benefits in a “simple, digestible format,” more Ohio high school seniors will attend state schools. Allowing students to compare the numbers for themselves, Mathews said, will show them how an Ohio education may make more sense – financially and career-wise – than attending an out-of-state, private university.
The pair of lawmakers worked with Ohio’s educational institutions, including the Inter-University Council, to modify the bill’s language before introduction. Mathews said some universities asked for the disclosure form to be sent after the deadline for FAFSA applications, for example, so they could include the most accurate financial aid information.
An Ohio State University spokesperson confirmed the university met with Mathews and Thomas and is “committed to access and affordability” as it reviews the legislation. Ohio University similarly is reviewing the bill and has no official position.
Laura Lanese, a former state representative and current president of the Inter-University Council, said in an email that the council — made up of Ohio’s 14 public universities — is “grateful” to work with Thomas and Mathews on the legislation.
“Currently, the public universities provide comprehensive information to students and their families regarding the cost of attendance, scholarships, loans, and other financing options, and they are always interested in increasing their transparency efforts in an affordable and cost-effective manner,” Lanese said.
Columbus State Community College declined to comment on the bill. The Ohio Association of Community Colleges did not respond to a request for comment.
Mathews and Thomas said colleges and universities have been supportive of the bill – with representatives from community colleges planning to testify in support of the legislation in the House’s Higher Education Committee.
“It’s not only a great opportunity for our students to make informed decisions, but it’s also a marketing tool to show the value our great Ohio institutions add, and how much an Ohio education sets them up for success in the future,” Mathews said.
HB 27 has been referred to the Higher Education Committee, where it awaits its first hearing.