Monday's start of the fall semester at Youngstown State University was noteworthy for two main reasons: first, enrollment was up for only the second time in more than a decade; and second, the new academic year carried Dr. David Sweet's imprint as president.
While a 1.8 percent increase in this semester's student head count compared to the start of the 2000-01 school year -- 12,221 versus 12,008 -- may not be earth shattering, it is significant in the context of what has been going on since 1990. That is when the decline in enrollment began and, except for 1998, the picture has not been bright.
However, given this year's preliminary total, and considering that last year there was a loss of 221 students between the preliminary and the official count, it is conceivable that when this semester's numbers are finalized, the increase could be larger than 1.8 percent.
But even if it isn't, there is reason to applaud. As Sweet noted, "This is a very significant achievement. It marks a reversal of a downward trend that has plagued the campus for too long. This progress resulted from the YSU faculty and staff becoming more engaged in enrollment initiatives, and they deserve the credit for this success."
When Sweet took over the university's reins in July 2000, plans were already in place for the academic year. The plans had been developed by the administration of President Dr. Leslie Cochran, who did not view enrollment with the same sense of urgency that his successor does.
Cochran seemed to adopt a "build it and they will come" approach to higher education. He concentrated on the physical growth of the campus and the expansion of YSU's academic structure.
The decline in the number of full-time students resulted in a decrease in the amount of money the Ohio Board of Regents allocated to YSU. State dollars are distributed to public universities and colleges according to a formula that is based on the number of full-time students.
This loss in revenue prompted former Gov. George V. Voinovich to persuade the General Assembly to approve special allocations for institutions like YSU.
Acutely aware of the negative effect that the loss of students was having not only on the financial health of the institution, but on morale on campus and in the community, Dr. Sweet made it known from the moment he stepped into the president's office that enrollment would be his top priority.
He went so far as to announce that his goal was to increase the number by 5 percent. While the goal was not met this semester, it does appear to be realistic in light of the progress that has been made and the strategy that is now in place for recruiting students.
"Our focus on recruitment and retention will continue as we work together to move this university forward," Sweet said in a statement issued Monday.
The president has explained on numerous occasions that he is pursuing a five-year strategy that is designed to strengthen YSU academically and financially. He's off to an encouraging start.