YSU’s ‘new normal’ is cause for concern about the future

While acknowledging that the “new normal” for Youngstown State University and other public institutions of higher learning in Ohio is to generate more money and expect less from the state, President Cynthia Anderson insists that the open admission, urban institution will continue to focus on academics and will not succumb to the growing demand for job training.

“Many individuals are seeking training for jobs — as opposed to education — and I want to emphasize that Youngstown State University is in the business of education — not training, and unless someone directs me otherwise, we will not be changing from that mission,” Dr. Anderson said Monday in her State of the University address that marks the start of the new academic year. The faculty, staff and administrators on hand for the president’s address applauded her for the clear statement about YSU’s mission.

But while the university community may not embrace getting into the job-training business — the growing shale industry is triggering the demand — the decline in state funding and the decrease in enrollment cannot be ignored.

At one time, YSU received about 75 percent of its operating budget from Columbus; today, it’s down to 18-20 percent.

As for enrollment, this semester’s official count will not be finalized until the second week of September, but the downward spiral that began last year is expected to continue.

In the fall of 2011, YSU had 14,541 students, down from the 15,194 in the fall of 2010. This summer, there were 415 fewer students on campus than a year ago.

A decline in numbers means a decline in revenue. To make up for the shortfall, which has been exacerbated by the cuts in state funding, the board of trustees raised tuition for this semester — the fourth increase in a row. This fall, students were hit with a 3.5 percent increase, and higher laboratory and activity fees.

Against that backdrop, we wonder if Dr. Anderson is being shortsighted by insisting that YSU “is in the business of education” and will not pursue the more lucrative business of job training.

We recall a predecessor of hers bowing to pressure from the faculty and eliminating the two-year degree programs on campus. The two-year program was seen as demeaning for a baccalaureate and graduate degree institution.

Today, Eastern Gateway Community College, which grew out of Jefferson Community College, is not only on an upswing, but has expanded in the Mahoning Valley.

Downtown Youngstown

This fall, EGCC is offering classes in the Plaza Building in downtown Youngstown, while maintaining its other locations in the Valley. The two-year institution announced that graduating high school students in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties can attend free if they have a minimum 2.5 grade-point average.

While offering the traditional academic courses, the college is also emphasizing job-training and has been developing courses to meet the needs of the shale industry.

YSU’s president Anderson says her institution will partner with Eastern Gateway, but that the mission of the institutions must be kept separate. That’s fine, but the issue of whether YSU should be contemplating a future beyond traditional academics should be on the table.

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