As an open-admission university, Youngstown State is hard-pressed to reject any Ohio resident with a high school diploma or a General Educational Development certificate, which means that its freshman class runs the academic gamut -- from scholars to at-risk students.
And while those who excel in the classroom find the first year in college invigorating and enjoyable, students who struggle academically are most likely to throw in the towel when they're overwhelmed. But they won't be doing that if YSU President David Sweet has his way.
Sweet, who is in his second as the university's leader, has made it clear in his public pronouncements that one of the greatest challenges facing YSU is to get YSU's enrollment moving upward after a 10-year decline. In this regard, Sweet has talked about a marketing strategy that not only highlights YSU's attributes but also deals with the issue of retention.
If a unversity can keep a student through his or her sophomore year, chances are that student will stay through graduation. That is why addressing the needs of freshmen who are at risk academically has become a priority this year at YSU.
As Dr. Cindy Anderson, vice president for student affairs, puts it, "The first semester makes all the difference in the world in terms of a student's success in college. If you can show the students a series of successes during their first semester or first year -- giving the student confidence, hope, a feeling that they can succeed -- then that student has a pretty good shot of at least being able to continue on."
Remediation: With that philosophy in mind, YSU has increased the number of remedial or developmental class sections from 79 to 111. It is also starting a new pilot program, Gaining Opportunity to Achieve Learning Success, that is designed to meet the needs of a small group of freshmen.
Sweet's emphasis on preparing freshmen for the academic challenges that lie ahead reflects the reality of institutions like Youngstown State. By opening its doors to any high school graduate who wants to attend college, YSU must deal with the varying quality of high school education. It should come as no surprise that nearly 40 percent of YSU's freshmen under the age of 20 were enrolled in remedial classes last academic year. By contrast, the average number of students in remediation among Ohio's public universities, including institutions with selective admission requirements, was 23 percent.
The strain such special programs put on the university are enormous. This is especially true today when the level of state funding for higher education is stagnant. Given that the formula by which the Ohio Board of Regents distributes funds to state colleges and universities is based on the number of full-time students, the price YSU pays for being an open-admission university is high, indeed.
We have supported Dr. Sweet's call for the board of regents to establish a special category for open-admission institutions and to provide special funding for the remedial and developmental courses that are offered.
Youngstown State is moving in the right direction in its effort to reverse the enrollment trend and it deserves to be rewarded by the state of Ohio.