Although Youngstown State University is still reeling from the deep cuts in state funding, President David Sweet has set a goal that under normal circumstances would be difficult to attain. Dr. Sweet this week told faculty and staff that YSU will become a national model for student-centered, comprehensive, urban universities by the time it celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2008.
Cynics might be inclined to dismiss the president's comments as far-fetched and unrealistic, but we would point out that there were many doubters when he suggested two years ago that the university's decade-long enrollment decline would be reversed. Shortly after his appointment in July 2000, Sweet said that enrollment growth was his top priority and that his administration would develop a plan of action that not only targeted incoming freshmen, but also addressed the long-standing problem of student retention. Over the years, YSU has had to deal with a growing number of students leaving after two years of study.
Last fall, enrollment increased by 3.7 percent, and this year, it is up by 3.9 percent. The last time enrollment went up for two consecutive years was in 1989 and 1990. That is why Sweet's Centennial Strategic Plan should be taken seriously.
"We anticipate this milestone with a strong sense of accomplishment, proudly acknowledging 95 years of dedication by faculty and staff who have served generations of students," he said of the 100th anniversary, during his state of university speech.
The Centennial Strategic Plan envisions Youngstown State as an institution of higher learning that transforms students into successful professionals, scholars, citizens and leaders. Its role in the revitalization of the Mahoning Valley cannot be minimized.
But while we applaud the president and the board of trustees for setting such a lofty goal -- it isn't easy being a national model -- we remain cognizant of the fact that YSU must also get its financial house in order.
As the president has argued forcefully on numerous occasions, the across-the-board reduction in state funding has been especially hard on open admission, urban universities like Youngstown State. It's time the Ohio Board of Regents realized that Ohio's public universities and colleges cannot be viewed through one lens and that those institutions with special needs because of the populations they serve must be dealt with separately.
We reiterate our call for the regents to establish a funding formula for YSU and others like it that are now penalized for not being exclusive insofar as student admission is concerned and for having to spend an inordinate amount of money on college-preparatory courses for incoming freshmen.
There should be a financial reward for institutions that focus on the academic well-being of the student. Youngstown State deserves more, not less, in funding from Columbus.