21st-Century Ohio State: Re-envisioning Our Land-Grant Mission

Delivered on February 19, 2016, to the City Club of Cleveland.

Good afternoon, everyone.

It is wonderful to be back in Cleveland, a great city on the shores of Lake Erie, the Rock and Roll Capital of the World and home to the Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Orchestra and LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It is also home to many Ohio State alumni and friends, including many of you here today, members of our Alumni Club of Greater Cleveland and former board member and long-time friend of the university, Ron Ratner.

Thanks to all of you for being here — and many thanks to the City Club of Cleveland.

Ohio is truly the heart of America. My wife, Brenda, who is here today, and I have had the opportunity to travel around the state and meet so many wonderful people. As we move through towns such as Cleveland, Newark, Wooster and Youngstown — where my mother was raised — we feel quite viscerally what it means to be a Buckeye.

The inspiration behind the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 speaks to our university’s highest calling. As a land-grant university, Ohio State is committed to all corners and 88 counties around the state. Our founding mission is to offer higher education to the sons and daughters of this state and to share the scholarship of our research to elevate the quality of life for Ohio and beyond.

Ohio State has six campuses around Ohio — in Columbus, Lima, Mansfield, Marion, Newark and Wooster — but we have a strong presence and commitment to all areas around the state, including Cleveland and the surrounding region.

Ohio State scientists are working to improve water quality in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Mary’s and elsewhere around the state through our Field to Faucet program. At Stone Lab, our island campus near Sandusky, our faculty and students are conducting research to protect Lake Erie’s coastline, fisheries and water quality. Through our extension work in Cuyahoga County, we are providing resources and education to support community gardening, community development and agricultural businesses.

My vision for Ohio State over the next five years — a vision that extends across the state, including to the students and families of Northeast Ohio — focuses on three overarching themes: access, affordability and excellence; community engagement; and diversity and inclusion.

Today, I’ll begin by talking about some of the progress we’ve made in each area — as well some of the opportunities and challenges ahead.

Access, Affordability & Excellence

Our commitment to access, affordability and excellence speaks directly to our mission as a land-grant university.

I had the opportunity to tour southern and western Ohio over the summer to discuss this important issue. We held forums in Wilmington and Urbana to talk to families and community leaders about college affordability.

One view remained constant: The impact of rising college costs has direct consequences on the future of our communities, state and nation.

I was particularly struck by the story of a recent high school graduate. This young man had many of the attributes associated with pursuing a degree in higher education. But when asked if he would be attending college, he immediately dismissed the notion as too costly. This was one conversation with one individual, but research shows that there are thousands more like him throughout Ohio and across the country.

To provide a pathway to college for more students, I announced last spring a five-year plan to reinvest $400 million in administrative efficiencies and revenue generation to ease financial pressure on students and families while increasing the academic excellence of the university.

As one of the first steps of this plan, we directed $15 million in need-based aid to more than 12,000 low- and middle-income Ohio undergraduates, including 1,062 students from Cuyahoga County and another 1,125 from the surrounding area.

One of these students, graduating senior Davonti’ Haynes, has created two mentoring programs while at Ohio State to encourage urban and Appalachian students to pursue their education. In fact, Davonti’ is in Cleveland today, visiting high schools to talk about these mentoring programs. The first in his family to attend college, Davonti’ is a real superstar, and we look forward to seeing what he accomplishes next.

Next fall, we will distribute an additional $20 million in grants to approximately 15,700 Ohio State undergraduates — a total of $35 million to this new grant program over two years. We have also expanded this grant program to our regional campuses where we’ll help another 3,000 students. Our regional campuses play a vital role in providing individuals and families with greater access to a college education — so we are very happy to see this program grow across the state.

We are honoring our promise of access to an affordable education — not at the expense of our academic and research excellence, but by operating a more efficient and innovative university.

We will continue to advance our partnership with Gov. John Kasich and our state’s legislative leaders including the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. This year, our efforts helped to ensure the largest increase in State Share of Instruction (SSI) in a decade, along with additional funding for the Ohio College Opportunity Grant program. These two sources help us improve quality and affordability.

In addition, the university approved in June a comprehensive cost freeze for Ohio undergraduate students — the first of its kind in at least 40 years — that held flat tuition, fees, and room and board.

Balancing affordability and excellence is both complicated and critical. The result is an increase in value. It’s not simply about tuition. It involves reducing time to graduation, identifying ways to help more students succeed, increasing scholarships and aid and being evermore effective and efficient in our operations.

Here in Cleveland and the surrounding areas, we are working hard to keep the pathways to higher education open. For the past 27 years, our Young Scholars Program has been supporting academically talented first generation college students in nine of Ohio’s largest urban school districts, with about 20 percent of the students coming from the Cuyahoga County area.

I am happy to announce that we will be adding funding for an additional 15 scholarships for this coming fall.

Just a few blocks from here, we advance access to Ohio State through our Cleveland Regional Recruitment Center, located in the Terminal Tower next to community partner College Now. Ohio State Mansfield also works closely with the community colleges in the area to provide programs and recruitment events.

Along with dozens of universities and community organizations, Ohio State also is a member of the Higher Education Compact of Greater Cleveland, working collectively to help more students get to college and graduate. The Compact is looking at how to increase student readiness, access and graduation rates.

On behalf of Ohio State, I am involved in the leadership of five national groups all broadly focused on advancing affordability and excellence — the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of American and Land-Grant Universities (APLU), the University Innovation Alliance, the American Talent Initiative and the NCAA. Ohio State is the only university involved in all five groups.

Ohio State is already among the most successful universities in terms of six-year graduation rates at 83 percent — up from 68 percent 10 years ago and significantly higher than the national average of 61 percent for four-year selective universities.

And I am delighted to report that in December, Ohio State was named among the top five nationally for improving overall graduation rates as well as graduation rates of underrepresented minority students.

As we focus many efforts on access and affordability, we continue to look for every way, large and small, to elevate the excellence of our teaching, research and academic mission.

Our teaching and research missions are fundamental to who we are, and we are moving forward in both spheres.

Last May, we convened a Teaching and Learning Summit to explore how to elevate our teaching mission. Since then, a group of faculty from across the university have been working to create a Teaching and Learning Institute that will support faculty, share innovative teaching methods and serve as a clearinghouse for teaching and learning resources.

I returned to the classroom this semester — teaching a course on “The Civil Rights Movement and the Supreme Court” with Moritz Law Dean Alan Michaels.

It is wonderful to be back in the classroom with our students, who are remarkably bright and energizing. One of the ways I talk about the complex social movements of our history is through the music of the times. Just as one can look at the art of any era and tell what the culture was like, so can you with music.

In addition to Ohio State’s teaching and learning mission, our research excellence is equally important and is a critical component of our university’s reputation as a destination for thought leadership. In September, we were named one of the world’s most innovative universities for contributions to science and technology and the global economy. I often say that we teach for Ohio, but we do research for the world.

For the third straight year, Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center was one of the top-performing academic medical centers in the nation — and the only one in central Ohio — to earn the University HealthSystem Consortium’s Quality Leadership Award for excellence in safety and patient care.

At the same time, the scientists at our medical center, at the James Comprehensive Cancer Center and our seven health sciences colleges continually look for new ways to treat disease, promote wellness and improve lives.

One of my favorite examples of our transformative research is the work we’re doing to treat neurological disorders and diseases, which affects 50 million people in this country.

For the first time in medical history, our scientists helped a paralyzed man from Dublin, Ohio, move his hands and fingers, thanks to the creation of a computer chip that was implanted in the man’s brain. This breakthrough research represents the coming together of science, electrophysiology, precise microsurgery, healthcare, business and the broader community.

I could mention many other types of research and scholarship at Ohio State having a profound effect on the way we live — from literacy programs and food science to manufacturing and the arts.

I mentioned earlier the work we’re doing with state and collegiate partners to mitigate the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and elsewhere. Through our Global Water Initiative, we’re also focused globally on developing a water system for rural communities.

Ohio State is also working in areas around the world, finding ways to improve — and even save — lives. In Malawi, an African country with high infant mortality rates, an Ohio State team is working with aid-based groups and other universities to connect more people to available health care.

And, just two days ago at the City Club, community and business leaders, including Ohio State, announced a partnership that will explore economic and research collaborations with Cuba. I am hopeful this type of engagement to benefit Ohio’s economic interests will lead to research opportunities in agriculture, poverty and health sciences.

The excellence of our faculty and research has a direct effect on the applications we receive, and the demand for an Ohio State education has never been greater. The achievements of our incoming students this fall were at an all-time high. We set records for average ACT score (28.9); number of minority students; percentage of students (62 percent) in the top 10 percent of their high-school class; and number of applications (45,921). To date, we are up nearly 10 percent in number of applications for the coming year.

Community Engagement

In addition to excellent and affordable teaching and learning, our vision for the university includes a re-commitment to our motto of Education for Citizenship and Ohio State’s commitment to community engagement.

The university’s engagement with the community — extending our knowledge and scholarship to improve lives and society — is really the heart of our founding purpose as a land-grant university.

Over the next five years, part of our vision is to focus the talents and energy of the university on one of society’s and Ohio’s most stark realities — food security.

In Columbus, Cleveland and across the state — even on our own campuses — too many (and one is too many) individuals and families either don’t have enough to eat or don’t reliably know when their next meal will come. Most alarming is that children rank high among Ohio’s hungry.

We visited a number of areas in Ohio this summer considered to be food deserts, communities with little access to fresh, healthy foods. McArthur in Vinton County is one such area, where the nearest grocery story is more than 20 miles away.

Significant work is being done locally and globally to address hunger, and to address the causes and effects of poverty more broadly, through Ohio State scholarship and outreach, our Extension programs and community partners. In January, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack visited Ohio State to announce the expansion of federal programs to address poverty in 11 hard-hit rural Ohio counties.

This work dovetails with Ohio State’s long-term efforts to address hunger. The university has invested nearly $15 million in new faculty experts as part of a comprehensive research initiative in food production and security. Over the next decade, we will commit nearly $100 million to this defining challenge.

It is part of a rallying cry to the entire university community, one that includes hosting an inaugural Buckeye Summit on April 14. Our goal is to engage hundreds of alumni, volunteers, expert faculty, business and community leaders, along with students, staff and friends in a day-long interactive program to examine best practices and strategies for addressing hunger and deploying Buckeye Nation to be part of the solution. And, of course, we’d be honored to have you join our efforts.

There are Buckeyes everywhere. I have learned that when we come together around a singular issue, lives are changed — and will continue to be changed — for the better.

Diversity and Inclusion

The third component of the university’s vision for the next five years is that Ohio State must be a national model of inclusiveness and diversity.

Being an inclusive university is more than a goal or aspiration. It is a guiding principle and should infuse our day-to-day work as well as our vision for the future.

On Monday at Ohio State, we hosted a preview screening of the movie “Race,” which was released nationwide today. The movie tells the story of Olympic great Jesse Owens, who grew up right here in Cleveland and then attended Ohio State.

We were honored to welcome actor Stephan James, who stars as Owens in the film, and two of Owens’ daughters – Marlene Owens Rankin and Gloria Owens Hemphill – who participated in daylong activities celebrating the gold medal champion.

Jesse’s story is fascinating for many reasons. He will forever be known as an American hero for winning four Olympic gold medals in Hitler’s Berlin in 1936, while he was an Ohio State athlete.
And yet when he returned home, the intense racial divide in our country limited his access to opportunities, so he could not reap the benefits that our most celebrated athletes do today. This aspect of his legacy reminds us of how far we’ve come, and that there is much more room for us to grow as a more just and inclusive society.

History teaches us that real change takes work, persistence — and, most of all, time.

At Ohio State, we are committed to the experience of every student, to a university where all people are accepted for their intrinsic worth and to the principle that true academic excellence is not achievable without a diverse and inclusive community.

Finally, none of what we do as a university community is possible without the support of alumni, friends and community partners — like many of you here today.

We were really pleased to learn that Buckeye alumni are among the most fulfilled in the nation.

We recently partnered with Gallup to survey the engagement and well-being of our graduates, and found that our alumni are far more likely than graduates from peer universities to strongly agree that Ohio State was the perfect school for them (43 percent) — or that they can’t imagine a world without their school (49 percent).

The generosity of Buckeye Nation is truly inspiring — and it has never been more important.

This past year’s support was record breaking. More than 237,000 donors supported Ohio State in 2015 — the most in university history. We also set a record for cash donations and achieved the university's campaign fundraising goal of $2.5 billion.

But we’re not done. There is much more we can achieve together — to find new ways to treat cancer, grow safer food, end hunger, protect our drinking water, strengthen the work force and produce more college graduates from Akron to Zanesville.

From the days of Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, Ohio has long been the heart of innovation. From Jesse Owens to John Glenn, Buckeyes have been the fastest on the surface of the earth and the first to orbit it in space.

Inspiration and brainpower have taken us from candles to light bulbs, and from railways to the skies. That is the tradition of Ohio, and it is the tradition of The Ohio State University. And that is how we, together, will continue to change the world.

Thank you.