Dr. David Sweet, who is completing his first year as president of Youngstown State University, has a low-key management style, but ask him about state funding for higher education and his words become lethal weapons.
"The state has neglected its responsibility in putting the burden of the financial condition of the state on higher education. We [Youngstown State] took a substantial portion of the cuts made by the legislature."
That's how YSU's president framed the issue of tuition increases that are to go into effect in the fall semester when he met this week with The Vindicator's editorial board. It would be an understatement to describe him as being upset. Like us, he is hard pressed to understand how the Republican-controlled legislature could be so blind to the realities of higher education in today's global economy.
Political expediency: To sacrifice Ohio's universities and colleges on the altar of political expediency is not only myopic, it is downright irresponsible. The GOP leadership in the General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bob Taft had ample warning that the Ohio Supreme Court wasn't going to settle for a Band Aid solution to the public schools' funding crisis. Yet, they refused to explore any kind of a tax increase dedicated to primary and secondary education and, instead, took a carving knife to all non-mandatory spending items in the general fund budget.
To his credit, Taft did submit a two-year budget that proposed respectable increases for higher education, but members of his own party in the legislature refused to go along.
Had the Taft plan remained intact, Dr. Sweet and members of the YSU board of trustees would have been able to reduce tuition for first- and second-year students, thereby creating a climate conducive to increasing enrollment by 5 percent. The number of students has been in decline for the past 10 years.
YSU had hoped for a 2 percent increase in basic state subsidies for the next two years, but now has to settle for less. It had also hoped for $1.1 million in Access Challenge money, which is designed to make higher education more affordable to Ohioans, but will get even less than it received this year.
Against this backdrop, the university had no choice but to raise tuition.
The president and trustees have kept the increase for freshmen and sophomores as low as possible, and for that they should be applauded. Other universities in Ohio, such as Ohio State, are increasing tuition by as much as 9 percent. YSU's average increase is 5.1 percent.
Underlying problem: But that does not take care of the underlying problem -- namely the lack of legislative support for higher education.
When Sweet took over the presidency, he made it clear that YSU and other open admissions institutions must be treated differently from other state colleges and universities.
Given what is now happening in Columbus, we would urge Gov. Taft, who is acutely aware of the challenges confronting YSU, to pay special attention to what Sweet is saying. There are academic and other pressures on Youngstown State that aren't felt by other institutions of higher learning. They should be considered when determining funding levels.
We believe that it is time for the Ohio Board of Regents to revamp its funding formula so that enrollment is not the main factor when deciding how much state money YSU should receive.