There are lots of buildings on the campus of Youngstown State University, and those buildings have lots of classrooms and laboratories. The only problem is that YSU doesn't have lots of students, which means many of the classrooms are empty.
This over abundance of space has drawn the attention of Ohio Auditor Jim Petro, who is recommending a revision of YSU's space utilization plan. The administration of Dr. David Sweet and members of the board of trustees would be well advised to take Petro's recommendations seriously -- given the economic realities confronting the university.
Budget: The Ohio Senate is scheduled to take up the state's two-year operating budget next week, and from all indications higher education will continue to fall victim to the legislature's push to increase funding for primary and secondary education. In the House-passed budget bill, state universities and colleges were given $150 million less than what Gov. Bob Taft had recommended. They are to receive $2.58 billion in 2002 and $2.64 billion in 2003. While these amounts reflect a slight increase over the current two-year funding, they are far less than what the Ohio Board of Regents had initially requested.
The regents have asked the Senate to increase funding for higher education by at least $98 million over what the House of Representatives has allocated, but there is little likelihood of that becoming a reality.
Enrollment decline: Therefore, institutions like YSU, which have been experiencing enrollment declines for the past several years, have to brace for even tougher economic times. That means cutting operational costs, which is why the state auditor's findings on space utilization demand attention.
The findings are contained in a performance assessment of YSU that focused on customer service, facilities management, fiscal management, human resources management and technology utilization. It contained 168 recommendations, including the consolidation of unused space.
Trustee Larry Esterly, chairman of the board of trustee's building and property committee, has raised the possibility of "mothballing" some buildings, which should awaken members of the campus community and the Valley population at large to the challenges confronting the university.
Petro does offer a possible solution to the space "problem": retrofit an underutilized building to meet the university's burgeoning student housing needs.
While other universities have created dormitory space in that manner, YSU is attempting to address its student housing demands by bringing in a developer to build and manage a 400-bed student apartment complex on Wick Oval.
Regardless, the state auditor's report has given YSU a lot of food for thought.