Perhaps in the rarefied air of academia a decline in enrollment isn’t worth losing sleep over. But in the real world, a loss is a loss is a loss — that cannot be ignored. It’s especially troubling when the institution in question is already having to justify its existence in the competitive arena of higher education.
The 3.8 percent drop in the number of students attending Youngstown State University this Spring semester compared with the Spring 2011 semester (13,698 vs. 14,253) gives pause. Last Fall’s numbers reflected a 4.3 percent decline from the Fall of 2010 — 14,540 vs. 15,194.
Meanwhile, Kent State University’s Trumbull campus has recorded eight straight semesters of increased enrollment. This Spring, the branch campus is boasting a 7 percent spike compared with the same time last year. The 3,255 students on campus represent the highest number on record.
Eastern Gateway Community College, which is also operating in the Mahoning Valley, had not reported its figures last week, but there’s an expectation that the results will be encouraging for the fledging two-year institution in the Valley.
That’s why YSU’s attempt to downplay the enrollment loss is not persuasive. The facts tell the story.
Fact: Last year, after contentious contract talks and a threat of a strike by the faculty, the board of trustees approved three-year contracts with the unions that include a 2 percent wage increase in the third year. There’s a freeze in the first two years.
Fact: During the contract talks, the administration contended that YSU faced a $7 million deficit caused by the reduction in state funding and a decline in enrollment last Fall.
Fact: While the faculty, in particular, bemoaned the anemic contract, the previous three-year pact was a boondoggle for the campus community.
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, who also received bonuses, professional staff, police and administrators were just as lucrative.
Fact: In order to address the financial challenges confronting the university, the trustees, at the behest of the administration, raised tuition for undergraduate and graduate students for the 2011-2012 academic year.
As a result, undergraduate students who live in Ohio are paying $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 went 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 saw a $193 per-semester increase, and full-time, out-of-state students outside of that region are paying $268 more a semester.
Full-time, in-state graduate students are paying $167 more, to $4,956. Full-time, out-of-state tuition for graduate students increased $172 a semester, from $4,888 to $5,060.
Fact: Those increases came on the heels of a 3.5 percent tuition hike in the 2010-11 academic year.
Is it any wonder that enrollment is dropping? The argument is made that even with the higher tuition, YSU is still cheaper than most of the public universities and colleges in Ohio. That argument ignores the reality of Youngstown State: It’s an open admissions, urban institution that caters to a population of many first-time college goers. In addition, many must work in order to afford the ever increasing cost of higher education.
In his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama echoed the sentiments of many students and parents when he said, “When kids do graduate (from high school), the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. ... It’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We just can’t keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money.”