An eight-month assessment of Youngstown State University by state Auditor Jim Petro's office contains 168 recommendations for improving the operation of the institution, and while some will take time and money to implement, others can be tackled in relatively short order.
We, therefore, urge President Dr. David Sweet, the YSU board of trustees and a community-based task force to establish short-range and long-range goals so that the audit becomes a living document and doesn't just lie on a shelf gathering dust.
Why the urgency? Because YSU does not have the luxury of time to deal with its problems. As a statement from the state auditor's office put it, "Enrollment is declining at a faster rate than the area's population, and YSU should develop action plans that target key markets in Youngstown and Warren."
Make no mistake about it, the university's future viability depends on reversing the 10-year downward trend in enrollment.
Community's needs: We would hope that after the campus community and the Mahoning Valley at large have had a chance to digest the findings and analyze the recommendations, there will be a realization that everyone has a role to play in the rebuilding effort. As Petro points out, YSU must become more responsive to the community's needs, expand partnerships with area businesses, increase campus diversity, improve management/labor relations and implement such cost-saving measures as consolidation of unused space.
A tall order for an institution steeped in tradition. A new way of thinking about higher education is demanded. Customer service, with the student as the customer, must become the order of the day. That means making enrollment as painless as possible; providing courses that students want and at times that are convenient to them; attending to the growing ranks of incoming freshmen in need of remediation; working closely with the public schools, especially in Youngstown and Warren, to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for the academic challenges that await them; and making YSU a catalyst for local economic development.
In a meeting with Vindicator editors and writers, Petro praised YSU for living within its means and being one of the more efficiently run institutions of higher learning in Ohio. But he also said that in numerous interviews conducted with those from the university community, the 30 or members of his staff who participated in the performance assessment found a lack of spirit. YSU remains too compartmentalized, which leads to turf wars and an overall sense of disconnect.
To quote from the study, "Youngstown State University can create a vision of its future, or allow economic and regulatory forces and societal perceptions to define the future for it."
The challenge is clear.