YSU struggles with unknowns for 2014 budget
By Denise Dick
As Youngstown State University continues to contend with less money from the state, the unpredictability of a few key budget elements limits the institution’s ability to plan ahead.
“If there’s one word to describe next year’s budget process, it’s ‘uncertain,’” said Neil McNally, budget director, during a retreat for YSU trustees Friday.
The uncertainty is caused by three factors and the difficulty in predicting them for the fiscal year 2014 budget, said Gene Grilli, vice president for finance and administration. Those factors are enrollment assumptions, tuition and state share of instruction.
“For the past two fiscal years, we’ve had assumptions on enrollment projections that obviously have not been met,” McNally said.
There are 13,813 students enrolled at YSU this fall semester, down 5 percent from fall 2011, when 14,541 students were enrolled. Fall 2011’s enrollment was down about 4.3 percent from fall 2010’s.
Prior years saw enrollment spikes.
“The preliminary information from enrollment management is optimistic,” McNally said.
Also unknown is what the state will determine regarding any tuition cap, the annual amount that state universities may raise tuition and fees. The cap is usually determined in the state’s biennial budget.
“We may not know the state’s policy on that until June,” the budget director said.
That makes it difficult for YSU to budget early because a significant portion of its revenue comes from tuition, and the university’s tuition is low compared with peer institutions in Ohio, he said.
The state share of instruction, which in 2001 comprised 25 percent of YSU’s operating revenue, also is up in the air. A new formula is being developed, McNally said, that may bring some stability in funding.
For the fiscal year 2013 budget, YSU implemented a number of changes to cut costs. Not filling many staff vacancies saved $5 million. Another $2 million was saved by leaving faculty positions unfilled. Increasing the overhead charge on auxiliary divisions at the university, such as housing and the recreation center, generated about $700,000 in savings.
Those efforts helped the university pass a balanced budget, McNally said.
Grilli said that some of the vacancies will have to be filled, and other personnel may leave so the savings amount will likely fluctuate.
President Cynthia E. Anderson said that though the savings measures first were considered one-time adjustments, they probably will be long term.
The president said it’s too early to project enrollment, but there’s reason to be optimistic.
“Our numbers are looking better than we’ve seen them in some time,” she said.
YSU has increased its marketing to attract students. Billboards and television commercials, for example, tout the institution, its faculty and small classes.
Officials believe they’re doing the right things to increase enrollment, Anderson said, “We need to be recruiting students we believe have the ability to be retained and to graduate, not just take anyone,” she said. “That is the challenge.”