Going to college in Ohio whether you're young or old or rich or poor, from a city or from a farm is going to get easier, state officials say. And it should get more affordable, too.
Ohio Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut recently announced how he plans to get 230,000 new people into college by 2017. He also offered broad ideas about how to make college more sensible for students from all backgrounds.

In short, Fingerhut wants to force tuition down, bring college closer to students, trim duplicate programs and make sure good jobs and qualified workers exist to keep graduates and employers in the state.

"We will become more efficient, we will be more flexible, and we will lower our costs,"said Fingerhut, who developed the plan during his first year on the job.

Some of Fingerhut's ideas are complex, such as funding schools in part based on their quality instead of simply rewarding growing enrollment. Other ideas are simpler, such as moving all colleges onto the same semester-based calendar.

Currently, Ohio State University, Ohio University and Columbus State Community College are among the schools that divide the academic year into quarters.

His plan will depend on the support of college leaders, who will need to work together, and state officials, who might need to change laws or increase funding, to make the ideas work. But the next step is to get specific plans from colleges due over the next eight months about how they would interpret Fingerhut's goals.

Most of Fingerhut's ideas share the goal of getting more Ohioans into college. Here's what his plan promises:

Traditional students

Every student who has a high-school diploma or a GED can go to a community college or technical school even if they plan to eventually get a bachelor's degree.

Taking that route should save these students money, compared with spending four years at a state university to obtain a bachelor's. In 2017, Fingerhut said, Ohio students who start at a two-year school should be paying about the 10th least-expensive tuition and fees in the country for their bachelor's degrees.

"We offer probably the most affordable education at least to start,"said Valeriana Moeller, president of Columbus State Community College. "We are going to play an even more critical role as the state moves to achieve the governor's goal of increasing college enrollment."

Fingerhut hopes that partnerships between schools, pressure to keep tuition down and more financial aid will help make college something all qualified students and their families can afford.

Older students

Fingerhut plans to welcome nontraditional students to Ohio colleges. The colleges should become more flexible, and it should be easier for the students to apply all types of credit toward degrees, the chancellor said.

Adults who complete apprenticeships or work-force programs will earn college credit for their work. The existing Adult Basic and Literacy Education program will not just focus on remedial literacy, but it will also get students ready for college.

For the first time in Ohio and the country, people will be able to stack a variety of basic academic and more-specialized technical certificates toward a college degree.

College also won't be for younger adults alone. Those 55 and older will be recruited back to college with special promotions, discounts, more-convenient locations and hours, and online courses. So-called "mature learners"will be matched with younger students for tutoring and mentoring.

Rural students

Students no longer will have to leave rural areas if they want to get a bachelor's degree. Instead, they will be able to build their associate degrees into a bachelor's at a nearby school without having to redo any of their lower-level credit.

By encouraging partnerships among community colleges and universities, Fingerhut said, upper-level classes can be taught on a two-year campus or online. Community colleges or regional university branches are within 30 miles of every Ohioan.

The plan also would guarantee that credits will transfer and that students who want to move to another college can use a "dual admissions"process in which they apply once to be admitted to both a community college and a four-year university.

High-achieving students

College-bound students will have more options, and those seeking higher-level degrees will have greater flexibility. Scholarships also will be available for those entering in-demand fields such as engineering and medicine.

As high-school seniors, students will be able to spend the year earning both high-school and college credit through the Seniors to Sophomores program. About 40 school districts, including Columbus, have signed up to offer the program, which will begin this fall.

Fingerhut also hopes that graduate-degree programs will be stronger and more prestigious by encouraging colleges to focus on their "centers of excellence."The state also will attract more top-tier researchers to pursue fields that are considered job-generators.

Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut has challenged Ohio colleges to produce 230,000 more college graduates by 2017 under a system that is more affordable and more closely linked to job creation. Here are highlights of Fingerhut's plan:

EASE THE ROAD TO A BACHELOR'S DEGREE:

The price of a four-year degree should be among the 10 cheapest in the nation. A community college within 30 miles of home should offer an associate degree that could be built into a bachelor's from a partner university.

SUPPORT SCHOLARSHIPS:

A $1 billion endowment fund for scholarships should be established for needy students by setting aside $10 million a year for 10 years and attracting matching money. The fund should distribute $50 million a year.

ENCOURAGE PROGRESS:

It should be easier to transfer among schools and use credit from any type of class toward a degree. Certificates should "stack"to count toward a degree, for instance. And all schools should be on a semester system. LINK TO JOBS:

Schools should create more internships and co-ops for students, respond to businesses' need for trained workers and focus on retaining graduates in Ohio.

INCREASE STATE FUNDING:

State subsidies to colleges should climb to make up for being $420 million below the national average relative to the number of students. By 2017, Ohio should have pulled ahead of the nation.

PURSUE EXCELLENCE:

Colleges and universities should focus on what they do best, and the chancellor should have an "excellence fund"to support those efforts. Colleges' state funding should be based on making progress toward state goals instead of on enrollment.