Students can choose from more schools and online options in K-12 and higher education.

Ask an average central Ohioan about the biggest developments in education over the last 25 years, and the answer could well have something to do with Ohio State University athletics.

Perhaps it is the 2002 national championship won by the Jim Tressel-coached Buckeyes or the national title team led to glory by Urban Meyer in 2014. Or how about a series of major overhauls to Ohio Stadium or the opening of the Jerome Schottenstein Center in 1998?

But the more studious among us will talk about the impact that technology has had in how our colleges and universities educate students online and in the classroom. And the last quarter century has been marked by the struggles of Ohio's urban school districts, including Columbus City Schools, booming enrollments and building programs in central Ohio's suburban districts, an escalation of student proficiency testing and the rise of charter schools in the state.

On the higher education front, Columbus attorney Alex Shumate of Squire Patton Boggs has seen plenty of significant changes during his three terms as a member of the OSU Board of Trustees. One of the biggest, he says, is when state lawmakers began to link state funding for colleges and universities to their performance, particularly their graduation rates.

“Universities such as Ohio State,” Shumate says, “have benefited as they work to increase the academic and diversity profiles of incoming classes and expand advising, mentoring and other services that help keep students on a path toward graduation.”

He says other important changes have included Ohio State switching to a semester-based academic calendar in 2012 and requiring sophomores to live on campus. Reforms to state construction regulations helped the university save $78 million on the new $750 million James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute that opened in 2014.

The hospital construction project was one of many that have transformed the look of Ohio State's campus over the past 25 years. Two of the more prominent additions were the Fisher College of Business campus, whose first two buildings debuted in 1998, and a new Ohio Union that opened in 2010.

In general, central Ohio's higher education landscape has become a lot more crowded over the last 25 years, says Linda Steele, a long-time administrator at Franklin University. There were only about a dozen schools competing for college students here 25 years ago, she says, but there are 56 today based on data compiled by Columbus 2020—and that doesn't include out-of-the-region universities that advertise their online programs in central Ohio.

Steele, Franklin's vice president of enrollment and student affairs, says one of the biggest changes she has seen is the growing willingness by colleges to accept transfer credits from other schools. That's part of broader efforts, which include allowing Ohio high school students to earn college course credits through the College Credit Plus program, to make college more affordable.

Franklin is also one of the universities to extend its reach beyond central Ohio. It now has 29 locations in five states through alliances with community colleges, and offers master's degree programs to students in Oman, South Korea, Trinidad and Poland.

At the same time, Steele says college students now have higher expectations of the schools they choose when it comes to employability after graduation and the ease of online services to register, take classes, receive financial aid and pay tuition bills.

She also says those expectations have driven changes in teaching methods. Lectures and old-school tests are on their way out, replaced by interactive media tools, group work and self-guided learning.

The central Ohio school districts that feed students to the region's colleges and universities have also undergone major changes. In 1992, for instance, 63,977 were enrolled in Columbus City Schools. Today, that number stands at about 51,000.

The decline is due in part to families moving to the suburbs around and beyond the Interstate 270 Outerbelt where much of the region's population growth has taken place.

Olentangy Local Schools in southern Delaware County, for example, now has three high schools compared to one in 1992 and a fourth is scheduled to open in 2018. The Westerville, Dublin, Hilliard, South-Western City and Pickerington districts have also opened new high schools during that period, and enrollments have swelled in the once-rural districts in New Albany and Canal Winchester.

Columbus' enrollment numbers have also suffered because of student defections to charter schools. A study by the Thomas Fordham Institute found that charter school enrollment in Ohio had more than doubled to 122,000 students by 2015 compared to the 2004-05 school year. Nearly 15 percent of those students were from Columbus.

Columbus City Schools, as well as their charter school counterparts, have also fared poorly on the performance-based reports cards issued by the state. For example, the district received five “Fs” and a “D” on the 2016 reports cards, faring much worse than adjoining suburban districts.

The report cards are part of a national push toward better school accountability, including the controversial No Child Left Behind laws passed by Congress in 2001. The result has been more testing of students, more state ratings of schools and tougher penalties against those that do meet standards for improvement.

In such an environment, a massive data-scrubbing scheme by Columbus City Schools administrators was exposed by The Columbus Dispatch in 2012. It involved administrators removing students with poor test scores from the district's state report cards, making it appear it was doing a better job than it actually was.

On the bright side, Columbus voters in 2016 passed a school bond and tax levy issue by a wide margin. The money is to be used to improve school buildings and hire more teachers and staff. More broadly, the Columbus district used a mix of state and local funding to build or renovate 46 schools as part of a 15-year capital improvements program that began in 2001.

Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.

Our look-back stories in 10 key sectors show the only constant of the past quarter century has been tremendous growth and change.