If there was any doubt about the importance of selecting just the right person to succeed Dr. Cynthia Anderson as president of Youngstown State University, two developments last week framed the significance of the search. Anderson has announced she will retire July 1.
First, YSU experienced another decrease in enrollment — a 5.3 percent drop this spring semester compared with spring 2012. Given that the student population has been trending downwards for the past several semesters, a turnabout isn’t expected any time soon.
Second, Gov. John Kasich’s proposed higher education budget does not bode well for Youngstown State. Kasich has eliminated the historical set asides that greatly benefitted open admission, urban institutions like YSU.
Instead, the governor is emphasizing performance.
For instance, 50 percent of the allocation for Ohio’s public universities is dedicated to degree completion. State dollars will be awarded according to the number of students who actually complete a degree. The governor is also for pushing bachelor’s degrees to be earned in four years, instead of the current six-year average.
Kasich’s budget includes total general revenue fund appropriations of over $2.3 billion in each fiscal year for higher education. The State Share of Instruction (SSI), which is the primary line item in the Board of Regents’ budget that provides operating support to the public institutions of higher education, increases by $33 million (1.9 percent) in fiscal year 2014, to $1.78 billion, and by $34 million (1.9 percent) in FY 2015, to $1.82 billion.
“The SSI appropriation increase is in recognition of the meaningful work accomplished by the university community in making Ohio a national leader in performance-based higher education funding,” Tom Keen, director of the Office of Budget and Management, said in his testimony before the House Finance Committee.
But the bad news for Youngstown State has to do with the Kasich administration’s view that higher education in Ohio should be affordable for students and families.
The proposed higher-ed budget limits in-state, undergraduate tuition and general fee increases to no more than 2 percent over what the institution charged in the previous academic year, or 2 percent of the statewide average cost — whichever is greater.
Why is that bad news? Because with the continuing decrease in enrollment, YSU, which already is confronting fiscal challenges, will be losing tuition revenue. In the past, it was able to make up the shortfall by raising tuition and fees by at least 3 percent a year. It did so for the past four years.
But with the new restrictions in the governor’s budget, the board of trustees will have to take a hard look at employee costs, the major expense in its operating budget.
Contract talks with the two major bargaining units on campus, one representing the faculty and the other the classified employees, will occur next year. The faculty, in particular, will be demanding a pay raise in light of the concessions the union made in the current contract.
Thus, the importance of the presidential search.
YSU needs an individual who can earn the respect and trust of the teaching staff. Although Anderson was homegrown — she came up through the ranks at YSU — labor negotiations were contentious. Her successor must be a person who understands the mentality of the higher education community — which is quite different from the rest of the world.
YSU does not need someone in the twilight of his or her career.
It has been suggested that trustees not rush to judgment and, instead, take their time finding an individual with strong academic credentials. The next president must not only have the support of the university community, but must be able to articulate a vision for YSU.
Four months does not seem to be long enough for a thorough search.
The board of trustees should ask Anderson to stay on as interim president after July 1 to ensure continuity and avoid disruptions in the university’s operation.
Given her publicly expressed affection for YSU, there’s no doubt the president would be willing to postpone her departure until her successor is found.