When Ohio's higher education flagship, Ohio State University, makes it known that its faculty and staff members will have to settle for a meager pay raise, the message is clear: Ohio's universities and colleges have been shortchanged by Republican Gov. Bob Taft and the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
The effects of their fiscal myopia -- the state's biennium budget makes primary and secondary education the top spending priority -- will be felt most dramatically by institutions that are on shaky financial ground, such as Youngstown State University.
Indeed, the administration of Dr. David Sweet announced last week that there will be a hiring freeze at least until the end of this month, by which time the details of the state's higher education budget should be known. In addition, the bleak financial picture has prompted talk on campus that the board of trustees may be forced to reconsider a tuition plan they had adopted that included a reduction for some students.
Subsidies: YSU had hoped for a 2 percent increase in basic state subsidies for the next two years, but it appears the university will have to settle for 1.6 percent. In real money, it's the difference between $1 million and $730,000. YSU was also hoping for $1.1 million in Access Challenge money, which is designed to make higher education more affordable to Ohioans, but it now seems likely that Youngstown State will get even less than what it received this year -- $203,000 versus $233,000.
That all adds up to serious financial trouble.
Republican legislators have expressed little sympathy for the state's universities and colleges, saying they should become more self-sufficient. The General Assembly removed the 6 percent cap on tuition -- it was designed to help keep higher education affordable -- as a way of forcing the institutions to become less dependent on state dollars.
That's all well and good for Ohio State, which is planning to raise tuition by 9 percent, or Miami University, which has announced an 8 percent tuition hike. But what about those universities, such as YSU, that have had to deal with declining enrollments for the past decade?
Enrollment: By cutting YSU off at its financial knees, Republican lawmakers in Columbus have undermined the university's campaign to increase enrollment. Legislators have ignored the realities that confront open-admission institutions. Nearly half of YSU's $100 million annual general fund budget has come from state subsidies, but with cuts looming, many of the initiatives launched by Dr. Sweet and the board of trustees are in jeopardy.
This is the time for all Youngstown State's stakeholders -- faculty, administrators, staff, parents, students and even residents of the Valley with no direct ties to the campus -- to recognize the seriousness of the situation and do their share to help YSU ride out this economic storm.