Four public universities in Ohio have already approved midyear tuition increases.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATOR WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- With the state budget picture worsening, Youngstown State University plans to raise tuition for spring semester, the first midyear tuition increase in at least two decades.
President David Sweet said he has not yet determined the amount of the increase, but he told trustees at a daylong retreat Wednesday that it can't be avoided.
"We're kind of between a rock and a hard place, and it's not going to be easy," he said.
YSU would be the fifth Ohio public university to raise student fees in the middle of this academic year. The University of Cincinnati, University of Akron and Kent State and Cleveland State universities already have approved increases of 5 percent to 8.5 percent starting in January.
Dr. G.L. Mears, YSU executive vice president, said it would be the first midyear tuition increase in his 22 years at the university.
Universities are turning to students to make up part of a 6 percent cut in state appropriations for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2002.
For YSU, that means a $2.9 million drop in state subsidy.
Losses: But the situation could worsen, and quickly.
Terry Ondreyka, YSU's vice president for finance, said some state legislators support an additional 2 percent cut, which means YSU would lose about $4 million.
Ondreyka and Sweet said they want to make up the losses through a combination of university reserves, spending reductions and tuition increases. They hope to have a specific plan in place for trustees by early December.
YSU has $5 million in reserves, about 5 percent of the university's $100 million general fund budget.
Under Ohio law, the state rates each public university's fiscal health 0 to 5, and the amount of a school's reserve funds is a key component in the ranking. Universities that go below 1.75-point for two consecutive years are placed on fiscal watch and subject to state oversight.
Due in part to increased reserves, YSU's rating has gone from 1.8 to 3.5 in the last four years.
Dipping into those funds now would likely lower the number, which trustee Larry Esterly said the university should avoid.
"I would be very reluctant to see us move into those reserves in any significant way," he said.
Alternatives: That leaves campus spending cuts and a tuition increase as alternatives.
Sweet said YSU is "a very lean ship" with a faculty that works very hard. "I don't want to recommend to you anything that reduces the quality of what we're offering," he told trustees.
YSU's $4,348 annual tuition ranks 11th lowest among Ohio's four-year public universities. Miami University's tuition is the highest at $6,916 a year, with Shawnee State's the lowest at $3,402.
The university would need to boost tuition 7 percent to raise $1 million in the spring semester, university records show.
To make up the entire $2.9 million shortfall in state funds through tuition alone, YSU would need to boost fees by 19 percent.
Sweet has said that YSU would provide additional financial aid and emergency loans if a tuition increase is approved.