The faculty union head calls YSU's economic condition anorexic.
By RON COLE
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State University students will pay more in tuition next school year, but not nearly the 20- to 35-percent increases bandied about by other Ohio universities.
YSU President David Sweet said he has not decided on the size of the increase, but he said he supports Gov. Bob Taft's efforts to keep tuition increases under 10 percent this fall.
Sweet said he fears, however, that plans by Ohio University and Ohio State University to boost tuition well above 10 percent could result in a legislatively imposed cap on tuition as low as 6 percent.
"And that would adversely affect YSU," he said.
Meanwhile, the head of YSU's faculty union says a significant tuition increase is needed to offset years of subpar tuition increases and state funding cuts.
"Our board of trustees continues to try to keep tuition as low as possible at the expense of the services and quality of the university," said John Russo, president of the YSU chapter of the Ohio Education Association.
"We can't provide all of the types of services that an urban university must provide given our level of funding. It's not the students' fault. It's not the faculty's fault. It's the fault of the state Legislature and the defunding of higher education."
Debate is raging: The tuition debate is raging across Ohio since OU and OSU revealed plans last week to raise freshmen tuition next year by 20 percent and 35 percent, respectively, to make up for lost state funding.
In response, Taft last week told university presidents that he wants them to hold tuition increases under 10 percent or risk the General Assembly imposing even lower tuition caps.
If Taft and lawmakers impose a cap, Sweet said he hopes it will be a flat-dollar amount rather than a percentage. Since YSU's $4,588 annual tuition is among the lowest in the state, a percentage cap limits even more how much YSU can raise tuition, Sweet said.
"It would only put YSU further behind," he said.
YSU raised tuition 5 percent last fall and 5.5 percent in January in response to a $3 million cut in state funding. The university faces an additional $3 million cut in July. Sweet said his staff is developing various scenarios on how to make up the loss.
"My number-one objective will be to maintain and enhance quality and make sure we're delivering the kinds of programs that our students need and that, in these economic times, inevitably will include" a tuition increase, he said.
Russo, whose union will be negotiating a new contract with the university this summer, said YSU historically has made mistakes setting tuition, putting the university way behind other schools in its ability to generate revenue.
Other moves: In the 1980s, for instance, the university froze tuition, he said. In the 1990s, state-imposed tuition caps kept tuition down, he said. And when the caps were removed, YSU did not raise tuition enough, he said.
Russo said the tuition moves, combined with a state funding formula that provides less money for undergraduate universities like YSU, has resulted in endless belt-tightening.
"This place is so efficient, it's pathetic," he said. "You can be too thin. This place is anorexic."
He also noted that enrollment at YSU increased in the fall and spring despite tuition increases.