Before the board of trustees of Youngstown State University slaps another 3.5 percent tuition increase on undergraduate and graduate students, members have a responsibility to the stakeholders, including the taxpayers, to explore the issue of fairness through this question: Is it right for only one segment of the campus community to bear the burden of the institution’s financial troubles?
The answer is an unequivocal no. Indeed, based on what has occurred at YSU over the past several years with regard to contracts for the faculty and staff, the trustees should start their discussion about the tuition increase at their meeting Friday with a clear statement: We expect concessions and givebacks from all the employees in return for our requiring students to pay more in the 2011-12 academic year.
The current three-year contracts were more than generous to the employees. Notably, in the midst of the worst national recession since the late 1920s, 400 members of the Association of Classified Employees received bonuses tied to enrollment increases. It was a giveaway that made the pay raises granted to everyone on campus all the more difficult to swallow.
We were harshly critical of former President Dr. David Sweet and the trustees at the time for not taking a hard line during contract talks. We warned that YSU could not afford the lucrative wage and benefit packages, and that with cuts in state funding for higher education, the institution would be in a financial bind. We were right.
Tuition was increased 3.5 percent in the 2010-11 academic year, which has just ended, and now trustees are confronted with a projected deficit of $9.5 million for fiscal 2012. The proposed tuition increase of another 3.5 percent — it was recommended last week by the board of trustees’ finance and facilities committee — starting this fall would generate $3.2 million.
A story in The Vindicator Wednesday detailed the effects of the increase:
Undergraduate students who live in Ohio would pay $126 more — from $3,600 to $3,726 — per semester.
For full-time students living in the 10-county region considered the Western Pennsylvania Advantage area, tuition would go up $131 per semester, from $3,700 to $3,831.
Full-time students living in the 15-county regional service area in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia would see a $193 per-semester increase and full-time, out-of-state students outside of that region would pay $268 more a semester.
Full-time, in-state graduate students would pay $167 more per semester, to $4,956. Full-time, out-of-state tuition for graduate students would increase $172 a semester, from $4,888 to $5,060.
“It’s painful, but we can’t help it,” said Dr. Sudershan K. Garg, committee chairman.
As we’ve argued numerous times in this space, while tuition at YSU remains lower than most of Ohio’s universities and colleges, it is important to remember that the population served by Youngstown State has been economically challenged since the demise of the steel industry.
A lot of students work, and although financial aid is available, the cost of attending YSU is still out of the reach of many.
Hence, members of the board of trustees should avoid the mistakes of the past with regard to the labor agreements with faculty and staff.
Contract talks are ongoing with the faculty union and ACE, and while no details have been made public, it would be the height of irresponsibility for any employees to expect wage increases.
Private sector taxpayers, who have had to accept pay cuts, higher contributions for health care, pension freezes and givebacks of other benefits, are hard-pressed to understand why public sector employees on campus haven’t yet experienced the meaning of the word sacrifice.
What makes them such an important class of worker?
Consider the three-year faculty contract that is expiring this year: For the 2008-09 school year, there was a 2.8 percent increase in the base salary; a bonus, which resulted in a full professor, for example, receiving $1,800 that was added to the base salary; an increase in longevity pay of $50 for each year of service for a member of the faculty union hired before June 1, 2008. It has been calculated that the entire first-year package resulted in an 8 percent increase.
For the second and third years, faculty members received increases of 3.5 percent to their new base salaries.
The contracts for the classified employees, professional staff, police and the increases granted administrators were just as lucrative.
In other words, the last three years have been a boon for YSU’s employees. They must know that the public now expects them to sacrifice.