YSU may soon have to face reality of state funding loss

Youngstown State University had better leave the door open to voluntary pay cuts or unpaid furloughs from administrative and nonunion employees, and even concessions from union members.

Storm clouds are gathering in Columbus over state funding for public universities and colleges. A collaborative system of divvying up state dollars may not work to YSU’s advantage, as we had expected.

There are rumblings that the meetings of the special commission developing a formula for allocating the $1.5 billion that will be available in the 2014 biennium aren’t running as smoothly as had been hoped.

Dr. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, was appointed by Gov. John Kasich to head the commission, which will come up with the formula and policy for allocating state dollars. The presidents of Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio University and Wright State University are the other members of the panel.

Gee headed a previous commission that determined the allocation of state dollars for capital projects on college campuses. He received high marks for his work and was, therefore, a natural choice for leading the statewide collaboration of the 37 institutions seeking a share of the $1.5 billion.

But given that tensions are rising, it would be foolhardy for lower-tier institutions like Youngstown State not to prepare for a disappointing outcome. YSU could end up with about the same amount of state dollars it received in the current biennium, but with the continuing loss of enrollment, that would not be good news.

The new funding formula will be based on retention and graduation rates, cost control, commercialization and student remediation.

Although the de-emphasis on enrollment and focus on retention and graduation have been in place for some time, the new funding mechanism will also be based on performance.

Dr. Cynthia Anderson, president of Youngstown State, has said that the university must “right size” in terms of its student population and the workforce. About 100 vacant positions were not 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.

YSU’s enrollment decline has exacerbated its financial difficulties caused by the cuts in state funding. The board of trustees has raised tuition four years in a row.

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

Avoiding reality?

Thus, when officials concede that there have been no discussions pertaining to administrative and nonunion employees taking voluntary pay cuts or unpaid furloughs — they did so last year — we wonder if Dr. Anderson and her management team are avoiding reality. Likewise, the lack of discussion about givebacks by the unions seems shortsighted. To be sure, they agreed to concessions in their last contract.

However, Gov. Kasich has made it clear that Ohio’s public universities and colleges cannot expect the level of state support they once received. He has insisted that the institutions adopt initiatives that will reduce costs. Kasich has argued that universities and colleges should collaborate on such things as purchasing of supplies and insurance.

The governor has also said he wants an end to duplication of academic degree programs.

The implications for YSU are clear.

While the budget this year is balanced — the 3 percent increase in tuition, along with concessions by all employees certainly prevented an economic meltdown — the future is bleak.

There is little to suggest that enrollment will increase, which means right sizing will have to be an ongoing process.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.