When Youngstown State University trustees meet this afternoon and take up the issue of a tuition increase, we hope someone has the good sense to ask this question: Why are we picking a fight with the governor?
Make no mistake about it, Gov. Bob Taft will not take kindly to being snubbed by YSU. Taft has made it clear to all the presidents of Ohio's public universities and colleges that hitting students up for more money will influence the funding decisions he will make on the upcoming two-year budget.
"I do not want to raise any false expectations about the next budget," the governor said in a letter to the leaders of higher education institutions that receive state money. "However, I believe you and your board should be aware of the potential impact that tuition decisions may have on policy-makers in Columbus."
The governor could not have been any clearer: Now isn't the time to ask students to pay more.
YSU's trustees should at least wait until Taft highlights his biennium budget during his State of State address on Feb. 8. While it has been widely reported that higher education could take a 20 percent hit, it is possible that the public universities and colleges will be spared if the governor's revenue projections reflect a continuation of the 1 penny sales tax.
The tax will expire on June 1 and Taft has urged the Ohio General Assembly to renew it.
It was not clear, as of this writing, why YSU President David Sweet is prepared to recommend that the trustees increase tuition now, but they better consider the ramifications of such an act.
Last November, in the wake of the governor's letter to the presidents, we acknowledged that if state funding is reduced YSU would have only two options: make cuts in spending, or boost revenue through a tuition increase.
But that point has not been reached.
Indeed, a responsible position for the trustees to take is to require Sweet to show what cuts his administration has made in anticipation of lower revenue and what cost-saving measures are being pursued that would demonstrate an understanding of the fiscal challenges confronting higher education.
While Sweet can credibly argue that YSU's tuition is the lowest in the state, it is also proper to point out that the population from which the university draws its enrollment is not as well off financially as those in other parts of the state. A student struggling to pay all the expenses involved in attending YSU is certainly not going to be appeased by the president's saying, "YSU's tuition is the lowest in the state."
That's the point Taft was making in his letter to the universities and colleges.
Here's how the governor's spokesman, Orest Holubec, put it: "Just as our state budget is tight and budgets at colleges and universities are tight, the governor knows budgets in Ohio's homes are tight as well. He [Taft] wants to ensure that kids who want to go to college have access to college and tuition plays a role in that."
It is premature and risky for the board of trustees to vote on an increase today.
A confrontation with the governor is ill-advised.