Youngstown State University President Randy Dunn’s baptism by fire — he has been on the job two months — has been made a little easier to bear with the announcement that Forbes has included the university in its listing of the top 650 colleges and universities out of more than 2,000 such institutions in the country.
While the ranking will not cushion the $2.4 million blow YSU is suffering as a result of a 3.1 percent decline in the fall enrollment from a year ago, it should bolster one of the initiatives being launched by the president.
In a meeting last week with The Vindicator’s editorial board and a reporter, Dunn said his priority in the coming year is to increase YSU’s enrollment from the current 13,381 students, which is 432 fewer than the fall 2012 semester.
Asked if he had a number in mind, the president noted that YSU could accommodate 15,000 or so. In fact, the university boasted 15,194 students in the fall of 2010.
This year’s enrollment decline and the attendant revenue loss, coupled with a $1.9 million budget deficit at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, would certainly represent a baptism by fire for the new leader. But, the former president of Murray State University in Kentucky is undaunted by the myriad challenges confronting YSU.
Rather than come in and implement sweeping changes, he believes it would be more rewarding to focus on boosting enrollment and building relationships in his first year. His three-year contract took effect July 15.
But given the financial realities, including a reduction in state funding, cuts will have to be made.
“We’ll try as much as we can for those not to affect academic programs, student services or people,” Dunn told The Vindicator.
That should be music to the ears of the university community, but whether it translates into a spirit of cooperation remains to be seen.
The two major unions on campus, representing faculty and classified employees, will soon begin contract negotiations with the administration.
Dunn would not take the bait when asked if he was looking for concessions from the unions. But given the red ink in the budget — student tuition was increased for the fourth year in a row — it would seem that a year’s freeze would give YSU time to get a handle on its finances.
If Dunn is successful in expanding the student population — he intends to go beyond the traditional mission area to recruit students — it will mean a boost in revenue.
Within the past year, Youngstown State has attracted national attention, especially with its leading role in creating the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in downtown Youngstown and with Siemens Corp.’s gift of $300 million-plus worth of software to the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
YSU’s Beeghly College of Education has been ranked as one of the nation’s top 40 schools for teacher education, while the university’s use of technology has earned it a top 10 ranking by edCetra, an education technology blog.
As for students getting value for their dollars, YSU placed 21st among nearly 400 post-secondary institutions in Ohio for providing the greatest lifetime return on investment.
All those and other accolades can be used in the recruitment of students not only nationally but internationally.
Dunn would like a year to accomplish his initial goals. That isn’t an unreasonable request.