Most of the talk in town about the University of Cincinnati this fall has focused on the fate of the Big East. Will the Bearcats football program be left without a major conference affiliation after Pitt and Syracuse jumped ship, sending UC back to the mid-majors?

But local taxpayers should be more concerned about machinations in Columbus that could jeopardize UC's role as our region's premier portal for an affordable higher education.

Lost in the long political war of attrition over SB 5 has been a proposal from Governor John Kasich's Higher Ed "Chancellor," former State Attorney General Jim Petro, to convert Ohi'™s great public university system into "Charter Universities."

Cutting Loose

The easy comparison to Ohi'™s troubled charter school program set off alarms, so the GOP's "Charter Universities" were slickly repackaged as "Enterprise Universities," making some wonder if the governor had sold naming rights to the ubiquitous rent-a-car company.

The "Enterprise" plan is laid out in a glossy publication available at OhioHigherEd.org, with pretty pictures of earnest researchers and high tech gadgets but little detail on what UC will look like once cut loose from mother Ohio.

But here is the big picture: The plan trades "mandate relief" in return for big cuts in state funding to Ohi'™s 14 public universities.

But as some at UC already suspect, any savings from eliminating collective bargaining, allowing secret board meetings, or reducing competitive bidding will hardly cover the big reductions in state dollars that are at the heart of the plan.

How will UC make up the difference? By socking it to students and parents with ever higher tuition and fees. One "mandate relief" would allow state universities more "flexibility" in hiking tuition and setting variable tuition rates. The incentive will be to act like Miami University, and aggressively court out-of-state students willing to pay higher tuition, rather than serve local students at reasonable cost.

Billions Invested

Is that what taxpayers intended when they invested billions in public dollars to create our state universities?

UC was created in 1870 by the citizens of Cincinnati. Its primary mission was to provide a quality affordable higher education to local students.

Hundreds of thousands of young men and women from our region have punched their tickets to good paying jobs with a UC degree.

In 1977, the university became part of the state university system. UC has evolved into a major research university, with more than 30,000 fulltime students, 9,800 employees, and an annual budget that exceeds $1 billion. It is a keystone of our region's economy.

Thousands of local families still see UC as the first and last resort to prepare their kids for the working world.

To them, all that "world class architecture" is irrelevant to whether their son or daughter can get admitted and earn an affordable degree in Clifton.

Over the last decade, tuition has nearly doubled, from about $5,300 in 2000 to more than $10,400 this year, and that's with tuition controls imposed from Columbus. As an "Enterprise University" the price tag will rise even faster, pricing out too many local families in these tough times.

Before the folks in Columbus spin off UC, like our prisons and turnpike, let's have a serious discussion of how this "Enterprise" will impact what once was the prime objective of our state university system: providing access to an affordable higher education to the children of Ohi'™s taxpayers. â–