YSU’s next provost must have a plan for academic recovery

Youngstown State University’s six-year graduation rate is 37 percent, while other four-year comprehensive master’s-level universities in Ohio have a rate of about 50 percent.

Considering that the new formula used by the Ohio Board of Regents for distributing state dollars to the 13 public universities and colleges is based on student graduation and retention rates, YSU has a seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

But that isn’t all. Gov. John Kasich, along with Dr. Gordon Gee, the governor’s consultant on higher education, and Chancellor John Carey, have said that the six-year average for graduation is unacceptable and that they want universities to reduce the time to four years.

Again, there could be a financial inducement for meeting that goal.

Unfortunately, as an open-access institution of higher learning — the mission is mandated by the state — YSU must accept applicants who meet its admission standards.

Although the new president, Dr. Randy Dunn, and the board of trustees have decided to shed the university’s open-admission policy — starting in the Fall 2014 semester, not every student who applies will be admitted — the institution will still have a difficult time following the graduation and retention edicts from the state.

Nonetheless, YSU has no choice but to improve its student performance if it hopes to secure more than the bare minimum in state dollars.

The university’s provost/vice president for academic affairs is the key to meeting the graduation and retention goals. Unfortunately, the job will soon fall to someone new because a veteran member of the university’s administrative team is leaving.

Dr. Ikram Khawaja has served as provost since 2008 and was interim provost for more than a year before that. Khawaja has been with YSU since 1968 and plans to retire June 30. He had retired once before in 2002, but was asked to return as interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from July 2005 to July 2007.

The search for a successor to the well-respected educator will be conduced by a firm that specializes in such assignments. However, the president and the trustees must play an active role in the development of a job description, taking into consideration YSU’s specific needs as an urban institution.

Experience counts

They should also insist that the search firm go after individuals who have experience in turning around academically stagnant universities.

Is there someone out there in academia who has a track record for addressing the demands of a student population made up of many first-time college-goers in their families? In addition, sizable numbers of students work two or three jobs to pay for tuition, fees and textbooks.

Finally, there’s the issue of the state-funding formula. What will it take for YSU to meet the new standards?

These are challenging times and by next summer, Dr. Gee, former president of Ohio State University, and Chancellor Carey are to release a report on higher education in Ohio. The report will focus on how the public universities and colleges can balance cost, quality and access.

We recently called on the Ohio Board of Regents to re-evaluate the funding formula, given that institutions like YSU, which take in many students who would not be considered for admission in other places, are at a distinct disadvantage.

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