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YSU’s future is bleak

Sunday, November 28, 2010

“I see tuition is due to rise. Didn’t you warn/foresee that not long ago after the raises?”

So wrote Robert B. Gardner, a financial adviser with The Bennett/Gardner Group of Canfield, in reaction to last week’s revelation that Youngstown State University is in such dire straits that every division will have to slash spending 8.5 percent and that a tuition increase — again — is inevitable.

While Gardner’s recollection of a previous column is accurate, the fact of the matter is that forecasting a tuition increase was easy, given the fact the previous administration under President David Sweet virtually gave away the store to the unions representing the faculty, classified employees and professional staff.

To add insult to injury, members of the Association of Classified Employees union not only pocketed hefty raises — compared with what private sector workers have received during the national economic recession — but got bonuses.

This writer has focused on the giveaway of taxpayer dollars ad nauseam in the hope that it would force the decision makers on campus to reassess their spending priorities.

It didn’t.

To pay for the university’s profligate spending, the cost of attending YSU went up for the 2009-10 academic year, and again for the 2010-11 year.

Now, notice has been served that another tuition increase is coming.

On the ropes

Anyone who has followed the financial course higher education has taken in recent years will not be surprised that YSU is on the ropes. The 12 other public universities and colleges are in the same boat, though not necessarily in the same state of desperation.

And things are going to get worse before — if they ever? — get better. That’s because state government must fill a hole in its next biennium budget of between $4 billion and $8 billion.

The hole can be filled by either increasing revenue, decreasing spending or a combination of both.

But the man who will take over as governor on Jan.1, Republican John Kasich, has made it clear that there will be no tax increase and that the biennium budget will be balanced by taking the ax to just about every item in the spending blueprint.

That means education, both kindergarten through high school and universities and colleges, will have to compete with criminal justice, especially prisons, social service agencies and all the rest for the limited state dollars.

Kasich, who ran on a platform of curbing government’s spendthrift ways, is undaunted by the sky-is-falling cries from university presidents, boards of trustees and other interested parties. He is adamant that sacrifice will be required of all. There won’t be an exceptions.

Given that, university presidents are seeking a removal of the cap on tuition increases imposed several years ago.

If the Republican governor and the Republican controlled Ohio House and Senate agree next year, the major beneficiaries will be the top institutions, led by Ohio State. That’s because there is such a demand for admission — given the value of the degrees earned — students are willing to pay top dollar.

The same can’t be said for Youngs-town State University, where the admission standards are a high school diploma or a General Education Diploma. As a result, the open admission, urban institution takes in students who run the gamut academically and economically.


So, when there’s talk of raising tuition, the reality is that YSU could easily price itself out of the market it serves.

Therein lies the dilemma for the university: While the major institutions would not object to state funding being cut so long as they can raise tuition without any restrictions, the minors will suffer greatly.

YSU’s future is bleak. President Cynthia Anderson’s demand that all divisions slash spending by 8.5 percent is a good start to addressing the financial challenges. But the savings won’t cover the loss of revenue and the increased operating costs resulting from the pay raises and other financial rewards for employees.

Even a tuition increase — at YSU it will have to be moderate — won’t generate enough revenue.

So, what can Dr. Anderson and the board of trustees do? Either get the unions to agree to cuts in wages and benefits, or develop a furlough plan, as Ohio University has done.