Youngstown State University’s enrollment decline is expected to continue this fall, thus forcing President Cynthia Anderson and the board of trustees to face a bitter truth: The days when the number of students defined the strength of the university are gone.
Instead, YSU, like other pubic institutions of higher learning in Ohio, must come up with a new way of conducting the business of education. State funding, which at one time amounted to 75 percent of the university’s operating budget, is down to 18-20 percent. That, coupled with the drop in enrollment, a $47 million institutional debt and the fixed costs, means YSU must find other sources of revenue.
Dr. Anderson, who met with The Vindicator’s editorial board recently, said she hopes the fall semester’s enrollment does not take a major hit, but even if the numbers aren’t disastrous, YSU can no longer depend on tuition and state subsidies. The university has hired an individual to explore other sources of revenue. The financial hurdles will not be overcome immediately, and it could be two to three years before the problem is remedied, Anderson said.
The president defended the 3.5 percent increase in student tuition for this fall’s semester— it will be the fourth hike in a row — and offered no apologies for granting pay raises to the faculty and staff .
“We’re making hard decisions now,” she said, noting that all the unions are paying a higher percentage of the health care premiums, have taken pay freezes, and the pay for summer-school faculty has been cut.
Nonetheless, the enrollment decline, along with the expansion of the Eastern Gateway Community College in the Mahoning Valley, are the challenges confronting YSU.
Eastern Gateway, which grew out of Jefferson Community College, recently announced that it is moving into the Plaza Building in downtown Youngstown, while maintaining its other locations in the Valley. The two-year institution also 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.
At YSU, full-time students from Ohio will pay $3,856 a semester beginning this fall.
The tuition increase will affect enrollment, which has been dropping since the fall 2010 semester when there were 15,194 students. Last fall, YSU had 14,541 students enrolled. This summer, there are 415 fewer students on campus than a year ago.
To her credit, Anderson acknowledges that YSU must “right size” in terms of its student population and the workforce. There are 100 positions vacant that won’t all be filled.
As for the students, the days of the open admissions institution accepting anyone with a high school diploma are gone. A change in the admission policy will place on conditional status students with a grade-point average below 2.0 or a composite ACT below 17 or reading and math SAT composite below 620.
The future of higher education in Ohio is a question mark, given changing dynamics in Columbus under a Republican governor and a Republican Legislature. That is why institutions like YSU must prepare for the worst.