The Van Wert County Courthouse

Sunday, Jul. 14, 2024

Local college 3.0

Since taking office nearly four years ago, I’ve searched incessantly for the way to bring college to Van Wert. The first efforts were just to get some classes here. We (the commissioners and the county economic development office) convinced Wright State to offer a few classes at Vantage initially but they weren’t well advertised and that effort didn’t lead anywhere. We tried to find other colleges who might teach courses here. In the end, with online opportunities on the rise, the model of the traditional branch campus proved an unsustainable relic.

By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum
By County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum

Our second initiative involved Northwest State becoming designated as the county’s community college. The designation enabled that institution to expand its offerings here. Along with that, we (the “we” now including Northwest State) started eyeing the Starr Commonwealth campus east of town with some grander schemes. The campus was too big for Northwest State alone but we came up with idea after idea for possible consortiums involving multiple partners and universities. It went so far as Northwest State being on the verge of renting the main building until Starr backed out toward the end of last year, deciding instead to sell the whole thing.

During the last several months, there were still hopes that a Starr buyer might be interested in our college model. But the current prospective buyer would not be so inclined and if that deal does not go through it appears the Starr will be auctioned before the end of the year.

What all of this means is that it is time to develop a third model. Here is what I proposed to Northwest State President Tom Stuckey a few weeks ago: A one-year program where students get a full year of liberal arts classes locally. It sounds similar to things we have talked about in the past, but this is different in one critical way.

First, let’s consider the cost of college. At even the most reasonably priced schools such as Bowling Green and Toledo, a year of higher learning costs $25,000. High school students are told only that they need a college education for a better life, but it is never explained to them what a $100,000 non-bankruptable debt at the end of it all means. It should be a crime if the value of college and the plague that will be this debt are not discussed simultaneously with an 18-year-old.

A $100,000 debt at the current 4.66 percent average student loan rate will require a $514 per month payment for 30 years. It would take 10 years at this rate to pay off the first $20,000 of this loan. The one-year local model I’m proposing would save that first $20,000 by simply doing that first year of college at Northwest State instead of at a university. Parents: by your child doing one year at home, you are saving him or her 10 years of $514 per month payments.

Moreover, many students are not ready to be away that first year out of high school. I know I wasn’t. I was homesick for that year and hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do with my life anyway. Others I knew in my freshman year at college frittered it away with irresponsibility and dropped out. A wasted year in college was a waste of a year then. Now, it’s a waste of a year and a $25,000 of debt to kick off adult life.

Dr. Stuckey and his staff quickly completed a possible curriculum for a one-year course. It would feature an intensive two-day-per-week schedule with five classes on each day. Over two semesters, a student could earn his first 32 college credits. There would be no electives, which is the key difference from anything that has been proposed before. The student would be signing up for an entire one-year program instead of choosing classes. The creation of this program would ensure that these classes would be offered, overcoming the main problem with general education classes at community colleges in the past — their guaranteed availability.

Although, by prior state mandate, these credits should be accepted at any other Ohio institute of higher education, it would help to have the specific endorsement of a few. Bowling Green, for example, would no doubt be willing to endorse, as it would provide a stream of second-year students. I’ve got a feeling it wouldn’t be hard to get several other endorsements.

Since it is a two-day schedule, a work program with local businesses could also be developed for part-time employment, should the student wish. This would also help our local employers who cannot find responsible workers. The first year could easily be paid for by the working student, saving even more and providing the young person some useful exposure to the real world before heading off to the fantasy land of college.

Everything discussed before involving consortiums with other universities could be built off of this. The common sense of this one-year program would seem apparent, but the obstacle is parents and guidance counselors in all of our area schools who need to start having that $100,000 discussion.

POSTED: 10/03/16 at 7:27 am. FILED UNDER: Opinions