It's a balancing act that would challenge even the most experienced tightrope walker: How to absorb a $3 million reduction in state funding this fiscal year and, in all probability, another $3 million cut next fiscal year and still keep tuition affordable and the quality of academic programs high.
Those are some of the challenges confronting Youngstown State University President Dr. David Sweet and his administration as they develop a strategy for dealing with the fiscal crisis that was created by decision-makers in Columbus.
The president is well aware that raising tuition in the middle of the year poses the greatest threat to YSU's continuing effort to permanently reverse the decade-long enrollment decline, which is why he is going to great lengths to ensure that the financial burden is shared by all.
A statement from Terry Ondreyka, YSU vice president for financial affairs, should reassure those students who are worrying about the impact of a tuition increase on their pocketbooks: "I strongly believe that no student will be forced to withdraw from the university as a result of any mid-year tuition adjustment." To that end, emergency loans, tuition payment plans and student employment opportunities will be made available.
The University of Cincinnati is facing a $11.2 million loss in state support. The board of trustees voted Monday to increase tuition by 3 percent in January and another 3 percent in March, but the administration cushioned the blow by first announcing that it had cut spending internally by $9 million.
Reserve funds: Sweet has said that YSU is considering several initiatives to make up for the loss in state revenue, including spending reductions and dipping into the reserve funds. One of the more creative proposals under consideration is closing down the university for the three days between Christmas and New Year's Day. While employees would still get paid, YSU would save on the other costs associated with keeping the doors open. However, for the proposal to work, the unions representing those workers who must be on duty would have to agree to straight overtime pay rather than the double time established in the contracts.
Such a gesture on the part of the unions would send an important message to the students who have already had their tuition raised this year.
As we noted in a recent editorial, Youngstown State had to scramble to get a 4 percent increase in enrollment because trustees were forced to increase tuition after earlier cuts in state funding.
We warned at the time that further reductions in state support could undermine YSU's efforts to not only keep enrollment growing, but to reach the goals of academic excellence that Sweet has established.
Challenge: Higher education in Ohio is facing its greatest challenge ever because the Republican-led House and Senate have made primary and secondary education the priority -- at the expense of the state's colleges and universities.
Republican Gov. Bob Taft must make it clear to his colleagues in the legislature that further cuts in higher education funding will not be tolerated.