YSU should start planning for fall enrollment decline

Perhaps it’s too harsh to say that Youngstown State University trustees threw caution to the wind when they approved a fourth tuition increase in a row, but their action certainly warrants criticism in light of the fact that student enrollment is declining, the national, state and local economies are struggling to get on track, funding for higher education in Ohio is in a downward spiral, and Eastern Gateway Community College is making its presence known in the Mahoning Valley.

The only trustee to vote against the 3.5 percent tuition increase was former veteran state legislator Harry Meshel, who noted that students are facing increasing debt loads while the university’s employees continue to receive wage increases. And it isn’t only the per-credit cost that will be going up in the fall. Students fees will also increase, including a $20 hike — $100 to $120 a semester — for a parking permit.

Administration officials, led by President Cynthia Anderson, argue that there has been belt-tightening on campus in light of the reduction in state funding for higher education. There was a time when YSU received 75 percent of its operating money from Columbus; today, about 20 percent comes from the state. By any measure that’s a huge hole to fill, but Anderson and the trustees must know that all sectors of the economy have had to deal with declining revenues, some for a much longer period than government entities. Indeed, for many private sector employees, holding on to a job has become a priority. Wage and benefit increases are no longer the norm.

For YSU to grant raises to its employees in the midst of a national recession is not only short-sighted, but sends a message to the larger community that the interests of the stakeholders — the students and their parents — aren’t as important as keeping the university workforce happy.

These are uncertain times for higher education — any public education, for that matter — in Ohio, and the decisions made today will have long-term ramifications.

At the same time they approved the tuition and fee increases, trustees, with the exception of Atty. Leonard D. Schiavone, also said yes to a three-year contract with the union representing university police officers. While there is no pay raise in the first year, the officers will get a 2 percent boost in the second year, and 2 percent or greater — if that’s what the faculty negotiate — in the third year. The faculty contract expires in 2014.

Downtown facility

Just days before the vote on the YSU tuition increase, Eastern Gateway Community College, which is moving into the Plaza Building in downtown Youngstown and has said that it will maintain its other locations in the Valley and even secure additional ones as enrollment grows, announced a free tuition plan for qualified area students.

Graduating high school students in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties with a minimum 2.5 grade-point average can attend EGCC free.

Given that YSU will be charging full-time students from Ohio $3,856 a semester beginning this fall, the offer from the community college certainly comes at an opportune time for many prospective college goers.

The following comment from William Mullane of Warren, vice chairman of the EGCC trustees, puts the issue of higher education in perspective: “We’re hearing from a lot of guidance counselors from various schools that students are having a tough time coming up with the money to put toward college.”

We don’t know whether EGCC intends to raise its tuition, but even if it does, attending the two-year institution will still be cheaper than enrolling at YSU. That should worry Dr. Anderson and members of her cabinet.

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