YSU enjoys steady increase in non-Valley students

Athletics is a catalyst in
out-of-state enrollments.



YOUNGSTOWN — Before she submitted her application for admission, Youngstown State University freshman Lenetee Allen, 18, had never set foot in the Mahoning Valley.

A native of the St. Louis metropolitan area, Allen came across YSU in a directory of colleges. She was attracted to Youngstown for its proximity to Cleveland, a city she had visited and enjoyed.

“Youngstown seemed like a good choice; it’s not that big and it’s not that far from bigger cities,” she said.

Ultimately, Allen choose YSU over invitations to attend Indiana University and MacMurray College, a private school in Jacksonville, Ill. Not only was YSU the most inexpensive alternative, Allen said she liked the diversity of the student body.

Now, Allen, a student in public health, shares her Kilcawley House room with an Elmira, N.Y., resident. Her floor is home to natives of Akron, Detroit and even Taiwan, she said.

Students such as Allen are part of a trend that’s having important economic repercussions for the university, according to school officials. In the last 10 years, the university has seen steady growth in students from outside its traditional mainstay — Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, said admissions director Sue Davis.

Enrollments from outside the area have increased about 25 percent since 2000, according to Tom Maraffa, special assistant to YSU president Dr. David Sweet. Non-native enrollments, however, still make up only about 3 percent of the university’s population.

“It’s kind of baby steps,” Maraffa said.

In 2000, about 320 people joined the YSU student body from outside the Valley. The last three years, they have welcomed between 410 and 420 each year, Maraffa said.

The bulk of the university’s recruitment efforts remain concentrated on local high school students, Maraffa said. Non-native enrollments, however, have been essential to the university’s recent enrollment gains. A 3 percent increase in new students this fall has translated into a $1.9 million budget surplus for the university this year — a windfall that wouldn’t have been possible without students such as Allen.

“It’s a piece of the puzzle,” Maraffa said, of recruiting students from outside the Valley. “It’s important to sustaining enrollment growth.”

Davis credits expanded recruitment efforts for the encouraging trend. The university’s admissions department has stepped up its presence at college fairs throughout the state, she said. Meanwhile, the department is working to diversify its recruitment tools. It’s marketing the university on the Internet and in television ads as well as in more traditional methods such as brochures and mailers, Davis said.

That effort has been particularly successful in Western Pennsylvania and the Cleveland metropolitan area, Davis said.

“We actually cover the entire state,” she said. “But the Northeast Ohio corridor is where most of our efforts take place.”

At least a portion of non-native enrollment growth can be attributed to international students, said Maraffa. The university enrolled only about 45 new foreign students this year, Maraffa said. The university continues to trail comparable state institutions in this area, he said.

The university’s international recruitment efforts have been hindered by policy changes prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that prolong the process of securing a visa, said Annette El-Hayek, international program coordinator.

International economic trends also have played a role in the decreased foreign presence on campus, she said.

In an effort to recruit international grad students, the university recently slashed graduate tuition prices, she said.

“It practically cut in half what it costs to come here and be a graduate student,” she said. “That’s an incentive for them to come here.”

The university also offers graduate assistantships as an economic incentive to some international students, she said. A portion of the foreign student population has been recruited to participate in the university’s athletic programs, El-Hayek said.

Of the university’s current international student body, many are native to India or Africa, particularly Ghana, said El-Hayek.

The university’s athletic department is a major driver in recruiting out-of-state students, as well, according to Rick Love, associate athletic director. The university awards about 100 full scholarships each year to out-of-state and international students — about half its total scholarships, Love said.

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