Cuyahoga Community College is again asking county voters to endorse its mission and accomplishments by backing a renewal tax levy and a small increase, which appears on the November ballot as Issue 5. 

Specifically, Issue 5 is a 2.1 mill renewal tax levy along with a new 0.4 mill increase. Here’s what that means: residents’ property taxes would go up by $14 per year for every $100,000 of their home’s assessed value if this measure passes. 

The money, according to some promotional materials for Issue 5, is needed to keep tuition affordable and support technical education and workforce training. Without it, officials warned in those documents, there would be “drastic” reductions. 

Tri-C President Michael Baston, who recently talked with Signal Cleveland, said the college’s impact extends far beyond the classroom.

Historic support

The state’s oldest two-year public institution receives state money. But in recent years, the college has been relying more heavily on property taxes. 

Property taxes make up the biggest chunk of Tri-C’s primary revenue, as shown in this graph from the college's budget report.  Issue 5 is a 2.1 mill renewal tax levy along with a new 0.4 mill increase.

In fact, out of Ohio’s 23 community and technical colleges, Tri-C is one of just six that can put property tax levies before voters. Traditionally, they have said it’s worth it. Tri-C’s 2019 levy passed with about 64% support

Issue 5 is Baston’s first levy campaign since becoming president in 2022. It comes at a time when confidence in higher education nationwide is falling and the county’s median home prices continue to rise, according to a 2023 analysis by Plain Dealer. 

Plus, like many community colleges across the country during the height of the pandemic, Tri-C saw big enrollment drops. Fewer students means fewer tuition dollars. 

This semester did bring some good news. College officials report about a 10% uptick in total headcount this fall. That brings the number of total students enrolled to about 17,410, about 6,200 fewer than those who reportedly attended in fall 2019. 

County-wide value

Baston sees the slight rebound as a sign of the college’s value that can translate into the support of voters. He believes the entire county benefits from the college’s success. 

The college frequently hosts free or low-cost community activities, such as an upcoming discussion between Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and sports agent Rich Paul. Senior citizens can access facilities and courses through discounted learning opportunities specifically for them. 

Baston also points out that the college trains first responders, such as firefighters, police officers, and nurses, “all prepared right here at Tri-C.”  

“The majority of those folks that are actually being deployed to serve the people in the community, that’s the added value,” he said. “Our ability to get students into those communities to serve the people through the work that they do is really the community’s benefit.”

Cleveland connection

The college enrolls students countywide, and it has cultivated a strong relationship with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Only about 27% of CMSD’s graduates begin college two years after their high school graduations, far lower than the state’s rate of 47%.   

One way Tri-C is connecting with the district is through the two institutions’ High Tech Academy collaboration. This initiative and Ohio’s College Credit Plus program are two ways the district’s students can take the college’s courses while they’re in high school. 

“If we leverage the power of the relationship of CMSD and Tri-C, more of our young people will not be in the spaces where they’re getting in trouble,” Baston said.  

Baston said he’s looking forward to collaborating more with new district CEO Warren Morgan, although there are no specific details about their partnership to announce right now.

Campaign pitch

Morgan succeeded Eric Gordon, who’s now a senior vice president at Tri-C in a position created to burnish the partnership with Cleveland schools.

Browse Gordon’s LinkedIn feed and you can’t help but note his enthusiasm for his new institution. One post shared how he joined volunteers at a phone bank to call voters. A few days later, he posted about a Tri-C faculty talent show to drum up awareness about the campaign.

“We were at the [Cleveland] Browns game, we’re at the supermarkets, we’re in the mall,” Baston said of the college’s outreach efforts. “We’re everywhere where people are to really get the word out about the importance of helping to keep Tri-C [as] the place where futures begin.” 

The president said those efforts will continue ramping up ahead of Election Day. As Signal Cleveland recently reported, officials plan to pull out lots of the traditional campaign stops, such as TV spots, billboards, and visits to ward clubs. 

Amy Morona covers higher education for Signal Cleveland, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.