During his state of the university address this week to administrators, faculty and staff, Dr. David Sweet, president of Youngstown State University, made the following comment that should be displayed prominently on campus: "With the many choices students have today for obtaining a higher education, we cannot sit back and hope they show up at YSU's door."
Underlying Sweet's words is the reality that YSU's enrollment has decreased in 10 of the last 11 years and that his goal of a 5 percent increase will not be met. Sweet announced the goal in February for the 2001-02 academic years.
But while the numbers for the fall semester may not grab any headlines, there is reason for some optimism. Why? Because after a year at YSU's helm, Sweet not only has a clear understanding of the reasons the university has been failing to attract or retain students, but he knows what must be done to reverse the trend.
Customer service: In discussing how important it is for YSU to become "student centered" and to provide "good customer service," the president quoted from recent survey results of students and YSU employees: "YSU has some areas of improvement to help it run more smoothly so that students feel a sense of high-quality service ... Even the staff expressed a feeling that the university is a labyrinth that is difficult to navigate, for them as well as for students, but they also expressed that they are willing to help solve those problems."
Sweet believes that a change in attitude on the part of the campus community would go a long way toward making students feel that they are important. The president is urging administrators, faculty and staff to display lapel buttons that read, "Welcome to YSU. Ask me, I'll help you."
In his address, the president talked about developing a road map to take the institution well into the 21st century. Such long-range planning is essential, given the realities of higher education in Ohio. As the legislature reduces funding for state universities and colleges, each institution will have to become more self-sufficient.
Hurdles: While his first year was largely spent putting out fires, Sweet now has the opportunity to pursue his vision for one of the most important entities of the Mahoning Valley. To be sure, there are many hurdles that must be overcome by YSU, but the president's address laid out a strategy that could be successful -- if everyone participates.
As Sweet told campus community, "We are on the move, and I look forward to working with you ... as we become architects of our future."
The president deserves support and the assistance on and off campus. YSU's future is inextricably tied to the future of the Mahoning Valley.