Although she has been at the helm of Youngstown State University since July 1, Dr. Cynthia Anderson was formally installed as the seventh president on Friday. And, as she has done since being selected by the board of trustees seven months ago, Anderson offered an upbeat assessment of the institution’s future.
But, the first female president of YSU — she also is the first graduate of the university and the first Mahoning Valley native to fill the top spot — must be aware that the good will she now enjoys on and off campus will quickly dissipate if she fails to meet expectations.
“Let us go forward and invent our future,” Anderson told the gathering at her installation at Stambaugh Auditorium.
It will be a future devoid of the one thing that all of Ohio’s public universities and colleges have come to expect: A guaranteed level of funding from the state.
Though the 12 institutions of higher education were spared funding cuts in the current biennium budget, there is every reason to believe they will take a hit in the next two-year state spending plan. That’s because Ohio is facing a $4 billion to $8 billion revenue shortfall in the general fund.
Adding to the uncertainty is this year’s election in which Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, is fighting for his political survival against Republican John Kasich.
Strickland’s commitment to higher education is well documented, as evidenced by the creation of the University System of Ohio and making the chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents a member of the governor’s cabinet.
Kasich has not offered specifics as to his vision for higher education, but he has said he will require the universities and colleges to cooperate in cutting expenses.
Despite the challenges that abound, YSU’s president is off to a positive start. She has shepherded the announcement of the institution’s first doctoral degree program, the opening of the $34 million Williamson College of Business Administration, and has won the support of the trustees to establish a one-stop enrollment center in Jones Hall.
The Ph.D. degree in materials science and engineering is significant because it solidifies YSU’s urban research designation and will attract world-class faculty and highly motivated students with a passion for research.
Businesses are already showing an interest in the practical applications of the novel ceramic, metallic and electronic materials that will be the focus of the doctoral program.
As for the one-stop enrollment center, Anderson has said it will play a key role in the retention of students. Even though YSU’s enrollment of 15,194 is a 20-year high, the challenge the open-admission college faces is to make sure students stay enrolled in school and then graduate.
The state funding formula is now based on course completion and graduation. The number of full-time equivalent students is no longer a factor. YSU’s graduation rate of 38 percent is below the state’s average for six years of attendance.
But the greatest challenge facing Dr. Anderson is the upcoming contract negotiations. The administration and trustees will not only have to tell the unions there is no money for pay raises but seek concessions in anticipation of a reduction in state funding.
As we’ve said before, a tuition increase is out of the question in the current economic climate.