YOUNGSTOWN State audit review offers advice for YSU

The YSU performance audit is the first for a public university in Ohio.
YOUNGSTOWN -- An eight-month assessment of Youngstown State University's operations by the state auditor's office has resulted in nearly 200 recommendations and commendations, but it contains no bombshells.
The 128-page summary report released today includes recommendations ranging from increasing the number of student employees to closing the university's Pete and Penny retail stores at area shopping centers.
Doing things right: The report also contains 33 commendable practices that auditors said already are in place at YSU.
"The Valley is demanding a steady supply of well-trained, technology-savvy workers," said state Auditor Jim Petro, who released the report at a YSU news conference today.
"Our recommendations can help university officials make Youngstown State a catalyst for local economic development."
YSU President David Sweet, who called for the performance audit last fall, said the report "constitutes a road map providing a critical path to ensure YSU's future vitality and success."
Room to improve: The report recommends that YSU take steps to become more customer-friendly and more welcoming to minorities, and it suggests that the university consolidate underused space and close empty campus buildings, though it does not identify specific facilities.
The report says YSU should launch a comprehensive public relations campaign, develop programs that respond to community needs and aggressively market nationally recognized programs to counteract the widely held perception among many in the Mahoning Valley that YSU is not a desirable place to earn a degree.
"YSU is challenged to change perceptions about it held by area high school students and their parents and to manage the realities of competition in their primary market at times when growth in state subsidies lags behind university growth in employment costs," the report says.
Budget concerns: The detailed report says YSU's administrative computing systems are old and need to be overhauled, and it includes dozens of recommendations about improving budget, payroll, auditing and accounting practices.
"Among managers and employees we spoke with, the budgeting process was consistently mentioned as a source of frustration and confusion," the report says.
Staffing, academics: But the report does not include any major recommendations about staffing and academic programs. Some university employees feared the study might include wide-ranging recommendations for budget cuts and possibly even employee layoffs.
The auditor's review, which cost $190,000, is part of a $300,000 examination ordered by Sweet and led by the 27-member executive committee of the YSU Operations Improvement Task Force.
The committee consists of community, business and YSU leaders and is chaired by William J. Bresnahan, president of Hynes Industries Inc. of Austintown. The task force's work, including the audit, was financed through private donations.
A first: Although Petro's office has conducted several similar performance audits for school districts and other government entities, the YSU assessment is the first for a public university in Ohio.
The report said auditors spent more than 14,000 hours interviewing members of YSU's board of trustees, employees, students, faculty members, administrators and community leaders.
Many of the areas identified in the report are already being addressed by YSU.
For instance, the report recommends that YSU revise its mission statement.
A university committee has done that, and the new statement will go before trustees in June for approval.
The report also pinpoints labor relations as a trouble spot on campus. YSU administration met with union leaders last month in a labor summit aimed at improving labor-management relations.
Commended, too: In addition to recommendations, the report commends YSU in many areas, including good-quality student housing and a campuswide fiber optic computer network.
"As a result of YSU's investment in its network infrastructure, faculty, staff and students have a high-speed and highly capable connection among all faculty, staff and students on campus," the report says.
"This infrastructure should serve the information transfer needs of the university for many years."

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