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A Message from the President

Announcement of The Ohio Northern Promise
Ohio Northern University
Daniel A. DiBiasio
Oct. 10, 2013

As all of you know, the current economic downturn has created unprecedented financial challenges for all sectors of higher education, including the private, nonprofit sector, leading many to believe that the old ways of operating and managing are inadequate. The conventional high tuition and high financial aid model embraced for decades by most private colleges and universities is not working today and is no longer sustainable as the economy resets to a new normal.

Despite this financial turbulence, Ohio Northern University remains academically strong and one of the top-ranked private universities in Ohio and in the region. However, we are not immune to the fiscal headwinds that have been blowing like a gusty gale across our campus Tundra. And just as our students who walk across the Tundra on a blustery day know, to reach their destination in such conditions requires them to lean in to that wind. Similarly, our University must now lean in to these prevailing economic times in order to remain vital and vibrant.

In the last year, we have given more focused attention to considering what kind of changes are needed in order to sustain academic quality AND become more affordable to qualified students and the families that support them. We have conducted a tuition-pricing study, held campus-wide forums on financial and enrollment trends, and met with nearly 200 full-time faculty members in more than a dozen small group conversations last spring semester. The changes that we believe will work best for Northern and that are best suited for these times have emerged from our deliberations and were formulated in recent months. They were proposed to members our Board of Trustees at their annual meeting last weekend.

The Board devoted much of its meeting time to a thorough discussion of the University’s proposal to change our pricing model and reposition Northern for even greater success in the future. The proposal is predicated on the view that the prolonged effects of the 2007-08 economic downturn, also known as the Great Recession, have created dramatic, even fundamental, economic changes that are having an adverse impact on higher education. The forces of impact include the following:

  • A steady decline in middle-class wages and wealth
  • An increasing sensitivity to price
  • A growing concern about debt, fueled by stories of debilitating student debt
  • A continued rise in tuition levels
  • A shrinking population of Ohio high school graduates over the next decade

While the economy has changed, much of higher education has not changed its business model. The proposal discussed at the Board meeting is not business as usual for ONU. Rather, it is a way forward that seeks to reverse some of the trends cited above and makes a quality education more available to the best students we can attract.

The proposal also demonstrates that we have listened, thoughtfully considered, and developed a plan that is right for our time and that taps in to the national and statewide conversation about college costs, completion, student outcomes, and return on investment. In the jargon of the day, our proposal says, “We get it!”

As a result of the discussions last weekend, I am pleased to announce that the Board has enthusiastically endorsed and approved the proposal we submitted to them.

The Ohio Northern Promise

Beginning in the 2014-15 academic year, the University will establish a new educational imperative called The Ohio Northern Promise.
In a phrase, The Ohio Northern Promise is about affordable excellence. It contains four key elements:

  • Reducing our tuition “sticker price” by 20-25 percent of 2013-14 levels
  • Offering a four-year graduation guarantee in most undergraduate programs to lower student debt
  • Engaging students in high-impact practices to deepen and enrich learning
  • Sustaining an impressive record of job placement and graduate and professional school admission rates for graduates

To make degree attainment more affordable, Ohio Northern University will reduce tuition for all students to rates similar to those charged prior to the recession, and the University will offer a four-year graduation guarantee. Completing a bachelor’s degree in four years will permit students to minimize their student-debt levels.

A hallmark of an ONU education is engaged learning, learning that occurs both inside and outside the classroom because of direct involvement in high-impact practices. Ohio Northern University will expand its extensive opportunities for high-impact practices, such as internships, undergraduate research and capstone courses, practices that enrich student learning. Finally, Northern is committed to sustaining its impressive record of job placement and graduate and professional school admissions rates for our graduates, rates that average 93 percent annually.

We believe that the four elements of The Ohio Northern Promise will make the Ohio Northern experience more affordable and provide greater value to the students we prepare for lives of success and service.

Current undergraduate students will benefit as well. Their net tuition costs for next year will be frozen at this year’s rate so that they will not see any tuition increase. Some may actually see a decrease.

The decision to implement The Ohio Northern Promise is both bold and courageous. While we join a few other colleges and universities that have also acted with boldness and courage on cost, our approach goes further. It also is a commitment to value, specifically regarding high-impact practices and job and career success. The four key elements of The Ohio Northern Promise place our University in a position of leadership, leadership that comes at just the right time.

ONU is well-positioned to make such a bold move now because it is operating from a position of strength in so many areas. Ohio Northern consistently attracts very well-qualified students, and total enrollment in 2013 is the highest in four years. The University receives top marks in many national rankings, including U.S. News & World Report, Washington Monthly, and The Princeton Review’s annual college guide. Last year, the University completed a comprehensive campaign that raised $110 million (against a $100 million goal), and endowment earnings have returned to pre-recession rates. Following two years of study and implementation, ONU has improved operating efficiency and made the investment to significantly enhance enrollment and financial modeling. The University continues to create high-demand programs and has begun planning for a new engineering building. The combination of these elements makes now the ideal time to launch The Ohio Northern Promise.

Nonetheless, this is not a risk-free decision, because no decision about tuition setting is risk-free. We have assessed the short-term risks as best we can and are prepared to fund this change through a combination of sources, including attracting additional new tuition revenue, acquiring gifts, controlling costs and exercising budget discipline.
I want to close by thanking the Board of Trustees, everyone here this morning, and all members of the University community. Your faith and confidence in this initiative is critical to our success, and your support is essential.

Again, I thank you for your time and all you do to make Northern great.