How OH Bill 59 Has Affected Ohio’s Public Universities

by Linda Stocum and Ashton Vogelhuber


The Ohio Department of Higher Education has refocused university funding from enrollment numbers to retention with a performance-based model. Since 2013, the model has changed the way universities conduct themselves.


Retention is the ability of a college to help students stay at their university from freshman year through graduation. The goal is to have students earn their degree within six years.


Stephanie Davidson, vice chancellor of academic affairs for the Ohio Department of Higher Education, explained how this change affected Ohio’s public universities.


Stephanie Davidson, the vice chancellor of academic affairs for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

“Funding is dependent on how successful students are at staying at a university and graduating,” Davidson said.


The department wants the universities to pay less attention to enrollment data and more about the students themselves.  


“We want each university to make sure each individual is successful and to care about the students rather than just numbers,” Davidson said.


She does think enrollment is still essential, noting how the old way of funding helped universities become reachable for new college students.


“Before, universities were focused on making college more accessible to students,” Davidson said. “Now we want them to focus on them being successful once they are in the door.”


William Kraus, associate vice president of enrollment management at the University of Akron, explained how the shift works at the university level.


“In the past, it used to be just enrollment based, so if you brought in 1,000 students you got funding for 1,000 students,” Kraus said. “The state said instead they need to see how those 1,000 students perform in the classroom during that semester before you get your funding.”


Funding is also granted when students graduate and receive their degree.


“That’s where performance-based funding from the state really does impact the universities to make sure the students are being successful, completing their courses, making progress toward their degree and eventually graduating with their degree,” Kraus said.



This graphic represents the enrollment and graduation rates for several state universities in Ohio for 2017. The performance-based model uses graduation rates to award funding, so each student that earns their degree creates more financing.


On June 30, 2013, the Ohio Legislature passed House Bill 59. The bill calls for public colleges, universities and community colleges to submit a campus completion plan to the Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education every two years.


The original legislation, 3345.81 Strategic completion plan, reads:

“Not later than June 30, 2014, the board of trustees of each institution of higher education, as defined by section 3345.12 of the Revised Code, shall adopt an institution-specific completion plan designed to increase the number of degrees and certificates awarded to students. The plan shall be consistent with the mission and strategic priorities of the institution, include measurable student completion goals, and align with the state’s workforce development priorities. Upon adoption by the board of trustees, each institution of higher education shall provide a copy of its plan to the chancellor of higher education. The board of trustees of each institution of higher education shall update its plan at least once every two years and provide a copy of their updated plan to the chancellor upon adoption.”


The plans are meant to provide a continuous improvement framework that gives campuses the ability to identify and implement different strategies to help increase the number and percentage of students enrolled and retained.  


This new push created a need for universities to look at the students more personally and create programs on campus that help students who are struggling.


Kraus said the plan is a template.  


“It outlines what you’re doing as an institution to help your students succeed, complete and persist,” Kraus said.


Below is a report submitted by Kent State University in 2018.

Jeff Robinson, director of communications for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.


The refocus can also help students save money while attending college. Jeff Robinson, the director of communications for the Ohio Department of Higher Education, suggested there is a correlation between the new funding plan and student’s mounting debt.


“I think the focus on graduating within six years makes college more affordable,” Robinson said. “Obviously, the less time [a student] spends at a university, the less money [they] will spend attending.”


This graphic created by the Ohio Department of Higher Education shows the difference the shift of financing based on retention has created for students and universities alike. 



The process of how each university improves retention is entirely up to the needs of the students who attend.


“Helping students do better is not the same for every university,” Davidson said. “Kent State students have different needs than students who go to Tri-C [Cuyahoga Community College]. So, each university is doing different practices to make sure their students are successful.”


Some universities have classes that help students adjust to college life in their first semester and figure out how to navigate being on their own at college. An example of these are, University of Dayton’s The First Year Seminar for Discovering Students and Kent State University’s First Year Experience.


Other universities have new centers to help undergraduate growth. For example, the University of Toledo’s Learning Enhancement Center helps students who are struggling with hard classes. Bellow is a graph showing how the new funding has improved university retention from 2012, before it started, through 2016.




This graph represents the change in retention rates for a few of the public universities in Ohio from 2012 to 2016. The goal is to give as much help as possible to students so they can stay motivated and succeed.


Kraus said the University of Akron uses scholarships as one way to motivate students to return to campus. The Akron Guarantee Scholarship works differently than some other university’s scholarship programs.


“In most colleges, to maintain your scholarship you have to maintain a GPA of a 3.0 or something similar and do well academically to retain your scholarship,” Kraus said. “But as long as you’re in good academic standing, in other words making progress toward your degree, you will maintain your scholarship.”


The other interesting feature of the scholarship is that it grows each year the student returns.


“Let’s say you start out with a $5,000 scholarship your freshman year,” Kraus said. “That scholarship is going to grow to about $6,500 when you come back as a sophomore.”


These efforts have caused retention rates across Ohio to increase, Cleveland State University among them.


Peter Meiksins, vice provost of academic programs at Cleveland State University. Photo courtesy of faculty profiles from CSU.

Peter Meiksins, vice provost of academic programs at Cleveland State University, said CSU places a target for increasing graduation rates.


“Currently, we hope to increase the six-year graduation rate for students admitted as freshman to 47% by 2020,” Meiksins said. 

Right now, CSU is at just over 45% which is up from the below 30% of a decade ago. 


“We’ve worked very hard to improve graduation rates and we’ve been succeeding,” Meiksins said. “But we’re not satisfied and our goal is to continue to increase graduation rates each year moving forward.”


Kraus said the University of Akron places high standards on itself for retention and graduation rates.


“To say it very simply is it’s the most important thing,” Kraus said. “That’s why you bring that student in as a first-time freshman with the expectation that you’re going to provide them the education that they need, that they’re going to put forth the work and effort to be a graduate because then that graduate is then out into the community as a University of Akron graduate.”





Ashton: Kraus and Meiksins interview, Scribd doc, Infogram, writing, banner picture

Linda: Davidson and Robinson interview, writing, interview pictures, Retention graph