In the midst of the national debate over the value of higher education — this page has featured both sides of the argument dealing with the return on tuition investment — Youngstown State University plans to raise the cost of attending, for the fifth year in a row.
Universities and colleges have been steadily charging more, prompting discussions in Congress about long-term student debt. And while top-tier institutions make the argument that their graduates are able to secure high-paying jobs, the tuition-hike pinch is felt more acutely at places like Youngstown State.
The open-admission, urban university has been confronting the twin challenges of a cut in state funding and a decrease in enrollment. Those add up to a decline in revenue, thus prompting members of the board of trustees to increase tuition. A vote is set for Wednesday.
This fall, undergraduate students at Youngstown State who are residents of Ohio will pay 2.43 percent more in tuition, compared with last fall, and will also pay a $115-per-semester transportation fee. As a result of the increase, the per semester charge will go from $3,856 to $3,959.
Nonresident undergraduates who live in the region will pay 2.74 percent more, while non regional undergrads will pay 1.69 percent more.
Resident graduate students will pay a 3 percent increase, while nonresidents who live in the region will have to shell out 3.23 percent more. Nonresident graduate students from outside the region will face a steep increase.
All this prompts a question for the trustees and the administration: Given the continuing decline in enrollment — 15,194 in the fall of 2010 to 14,541 in 2011 to 13,813 in the fall 2012 semester to 12,966 this past Spring semester — won’t the increased cost of attending YSU further exacerbate the problem?
While it is true that YSU, like other public universities and colleges in Ohio, has had to face the reality of major cuts in state funding for higher education, the issue of a reduction in spending versus an increase in tuition remains a point of contention.
Trustee Harry Meshel, a long-time area politician who once served as the Democratic president of the Ohio Senate, has consistently opposed trying to balance the books on the backs of the students.
Meshel has correctly argued that YSU is the first chance many residents of the Mahoning Valley have to attend college and perhaps earn a degree, which necessitates keeping tuition affordable.
But the administration has countered that not bolstering revenue in the face of state funding cuts would affect the academic quality and student services.
Against that backdrop, will the current labor negotiations with the faculty unions and others be about concessions and givebacks, instead of salary increases and other sweeteners?
We would hope so.
In commenting on the appointment of Dr. Randy Dunn, former president of Murray State University in Kentucky, to replace President Cynthia Anderson, who is retiring July 1, we said the new leader will be put to the test quickly because of the contract talks.
We noted that Anderson, who has spent four decades at YSU, was able to win concessions in the last three-year contract, but now there are rumblings that the faculty is looking for a pay boost.
The administration and trustees cannot give in to such a demand. The stakeholders of the university — the ones who are paying the freight — will not sit idly by if the tuition increase is used to fatten the wallets of the faculty, staff and administrators.
It should be clear to everyone that Youngstown State’s future is uncertain at best, which is why a firm stand on contract talks is demanded.