Last updated: September 06. 2013 8:28PM - 108 Views

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JULIE CARR SMYTH

AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS — A panel studying ways to boost Ohio’s college graduation rate says one way to encourage completion is to raise tuition on students to out-of-state rates when it’s taking years and years to finish.

In its new report, the Complete College Ohio Task Force also recommended that institutions offer tuition guarantees tied to a student completing coursework on a set schedule, and distribute financial aid “as a paycheck,” rather than in a lump sum, to encourage students to work less and take more classes.

Ohio Chancellor Jim Petro told educators gathered for a conference in Columbus that it’s imperative Ohio boost the number of residents who complete a college degree or certificate.

“Completion is probably our most important objective as people engaged in the University System of Ohio,” he said.

Only about a quarter of Ohioans hold college degrees, about five points below the national average. The lag has left many non-degreed Ohioans unemployed, even as high-paying jobs open up in fields like technology, health care and energy.

The task force made 20 recommendations in all. They included getting families and high schools more engaged — sooner — in students’ college planning, better defining what it means to be ready for college, and boosting Ohioans’ financial literacy and knowledge of available jobs.

The panel urged policymakers to replace the Ohio Graduation Test with a nationally standardized assessment, such as the ACT, and administer end-of-year exams to freshmen, sophomores and juniors that measure knowledge in specific content areas.

The scenario involving tuition hikes to out-of-state rates would only kick in after a student has been in college an excessive amount of time to be determined by each university, under the panel’s proposal.

The group made no suggestion of freezing college tuitions, as Ohio has done in the past. Tuition increases are currently capped at 3.5 percent annually, and universities across the state — Ohio State, Miami and Ohio universities among them — have approved hikes within that system.

But the panel suggests other ways to make college access easier for many types of students. Military training and experience would earn college credit, advanced high school and technical school credits would more easily count toward a degree, and workforce training would be rewarded.

The task force also recommended what’s called “intrusive” advising, where help is provided to students whether they ask for it or not. The approach links a hand-selected college adviser to each student who monitors their academic progress and encourages involvement in student activities, clubs and causes that could increase their chances of staying in college until they earn their degree.

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