Finalists for YSU presidency must clearly articulate vision

On paper, at least, each of the three finalists for the presidency of Youngstown State University could be the transformational leader the open admission, urban institution needs during this period of uncertainty.

This week and next, the university community and a cross-section of the Mahoning Valley’s population will have the opportunity to meet William R. Decatur, Randy J. Dunn and James D. Moran III.

Decatur is executive vice president for finance and administration of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence; Dunn is president of Murray State University in Murray, Ky.; and Moran is vice chancellor for academic and student affairs at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in Harrisburg, Pa. They were profiled in last Sunday’s Vindicator.

Youngstown State’s board of trustees will appoint a successor to Cynthia Anderson, who is retiring July 1 after three years at the helm.

Her departure means the next president will have to develop solutions to the myriad problems confronting YSU.

Enrollment is on the decline — a 5 percent drop from the 2011 fall semester to the 2012 fall semester, and a 5.3 percent drop from the spring of 2012 to this spring; tuition has been increased at least 3 percent a year for the past four years to make up for the revenue loss; the level of state financial support has dropped from 75 percent of the university’s budget to about 20 percent; and, there are exterior pressures, foremost of which is the new state funding formula for public universities and colleges.

A special commission appointed by Gov. John Kasich has decided that state dollars will be awarded to Ohio’s public universities and colleges based on the number of students who actually complete a degree, instead of the number of full-time students enrolled.

The governor is also pushing for bachelor’s degrees to be earned in four years, instead of the current six.

Funding loss

The changes that have been put in place on the state level could result in YSU’s losing funding from Columbus in the second year of the biennium budget, exacerbating an already looming deficit. In-state undergraduate tuition and general fee increases will be restricted to 2 percent over what YSU charged the previous year.

Also, Anderson’s successor will be immediately confronted by labor negotiations and the demands for pay raises, especially from the faculty.

When the three finalists come to Youngstown for meetings with the university’s stakeholders, they should be prepared to discuss in detail how they plan to transform YSU within the context of the major changes taking place in Ohio’s higher education system.

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