COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ending student debt, increasing state funding and guaranteeing rights for adjunct lecturers brought nearly 100 supporters of higher education policy reform to the Ohio Statehouse this week.
Organized by the Ohio Higher Education Coalition (OHEC), a coalition representing students, parents, and faculty, the May 13 gathering featured six speakers, visits to state legislators and discussions about solutions to current problems in higher education.
Flanked by students with signs that read, "End Student Debt," Kaila Riel of the Ohio Student Association spoke about her experiences as a working student. Riel, a student at The Ohio State University, talked about the increasing difficulties working students face while tuition costs rise and income stays stagnant. As a result of her experiences, Riel was driven to take action for change. "I don't want to leave anybody behind due to something as trivial as their socio-economic status," she said.
"We have to make college affordable because of the economic benefits for the state," said Marcia Futel, a Parents for Public Schools board member in Cincinnati. "Having a college education increases Ohio's ability to compete with other states and countries, but we can't leave our youth with a debt so great they can't buy a house or car because of high student loan payments," she said.
"Ohioans deserve responsible budgeting that will provide more support for higher education and reduce the out-of-pocket expenses for our students," said John McNay, Ohio Chapter AAUP (American Association of University Professors) president. "We all agree that having a more educated workforce benefits Ohio, but that won't happen as long as state leaders condone a system of minimal state funding that leaves students taking on tremendous risk."
Andrew Bonthius, an adjunct professor at Cuyahoga Community College and a member of the organizing committee of the Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association, discussed the critical labor provided by adjunct faculty, although their rights as state employees are disregarded. Adjuncts are part-time, temporary faculty, who were once a minority in the higher education labor force. But today they teach the majority of classes at many of our public institutions, the Cleveland resident said. "Adjunct faculty are now the new faculty majority providing critical quality instruction at most institutions, but we are treated and paid as a casual workforce."
Breakout discussion sessions and legislative visits followed the press conference. Participants in the breakout sessions discussed lowering interest rates on student loans and moving towards a system of Ohio-based grants to keep students and their future economic successes in Ohio. Bargaining rights, greater inclusion and professional development opportunities were some of the solutions discussed in addressing the issues of part-time or adjunct faculty.
The event's speakers also included Marisa Manocchio, president of the Ohio Student Education Association, and Nickie Antonio, Ohio House District 13.
The Ohio Higher Education Coalition members include Ohio Student Association, Ohio Education Association, Ohio Federation of Teachers, Ohio Chapter AAUP, Ohio Part-Time Faculty Association, and New Faculty Majority.
Photo: Rally at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, May 13. Anita Waters/PW