Tuition increase at YSU should be the last resort
Before Youngstown State Univer- sity’s board of trustees votes to increase tuition for graduate and undergraduate students yet again — the cost of attending YSU went up before the start of 2011-12 academic year — there are several issues that need to be fully explored.
The most glaring has to do with the 4.3 percent decrease in the current semester’s enrollment from 15,194 to 14,540, after several years of increases. To be sure, the national economic malaise has had a deleterious effect on the potential student pool normally tapped by the open admission, urban institution. However, trustees should consider the extent to which the 3.5 percent tuition increase for undergraduate and graduate students dissuaded many from attending.
Last week, a plan to balance the operating budget through 2014 was unveiled, with one of the provisions being a 3.5 percent tuition increase in fiscal year 2013 and fiscal 2014. The plan also includes the assumption that enrollment will stabilize in the Spring and even increase by 1 percent in the 2013 fiscal year.
What is the basis for the rosy scenario? Is it that the administration believes the economy will turn around so attending college will become more affordable for residents in the five-county area served by YSU?
There is no doubt that the university is confronting major financial challenges, just as most public colleges and universities in Ohio are doing, but is making attendance more expense the answer?
Attention must also be paid to the higher education options that are available in the Mahoning Valley, from the satellite campuses of Kent State University, to the Eastern Gateway Community College, to special courses offered by four-year institutions. To what extent are they diverting students away from Youngstown State with cheaper tuition?
Indeed, when the EGCC was established during the tenure of former Gov. Ted Strickland, then state chancellor of higher education, Eric Fingerhut, argued that those students from this area not prepared for the academic rigors of a four-year university like YSU should attend the community college for their first two years.
The board of trustees should delve into the aspect of other options available to college-goers.
Five months ago, when trustees were preparing to slap the 3.5 percent tuition increase on undergraduate and graduate students, we asked what sacrifices the administration, faculty and staff had made to share the burden of the institution’s financial troubles. Today, President Dr. Cynthia Anderson would point to the $350,000 in concessions made by more than 160 of the 211 non-union administrative employees, and to the six unpaid furlough days that she and members of her cabinet are taking to save money.
The unions will undoubtedly talk about the wage freezes in the first and second years of the three-year contract — there is a 2 percent pay raise in the third year — and the higher co-payment on the health care premiums. They will also talk about other changes from previous contracts that will result in a reduction in summer school pay for faculty.
Interestingly, during the highly explosive contract talks this year, faculty union leaders disputed the administration’s contention that YSU faces a $7 million deficit caused by a reduction in state funding and the decline in enrollment this fall.
Given that students may again be asked to bear a large part of the deficit burden, the faculty union should, in a show of solidarity with those they teach, provide details of their analysis to support their claim that the $7 million deficit projection is without foundation.