A year ago, Youngstown State University President James P. Tressel revealed that his strategy for increasing enrollment included a recruitment campaign in 60 counties.
“This year, we’re going to visit not just high schools in October, November and January, but at some of the schools in the bigger counties, we’re going to visit in the evening and invite parents,” Tressel said in an interview on Vindy Talk Radio.
What was significant about that discussion was that YSU for many years concentrated its student-recruitment effort in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio and Mercer and Lawrence counties in Pennsylvania.
When he became president in July 2014, Tressel, former executive vice president for student success at the University of Akron, expanded outreach to 54 counties.
The strategy is showing positive results. It’s important given that an increase in the student population means an increase in revenue. With funding for higher education from the state of Ohio uncertain, at best, YSU and other public universities and colleges are under pressure to make up any financial shortfalls.
Thus, last week’s announcement that enrollment at the urban, open-access institution in downtown Youngstown is up by 285 students – 2.3 percent – over the Fall 2015 semester is good news.
YSU has 12,756 students enrolled this fall, compared with 12,471 a year ago. It represents the first fall-to-fall increase since 2010.
But it isn’t just the overall number that is worthy of recognition. The caliber of students is also on the rise.
The incoming freshmen class has the highest standardized test scores and high school grade-point averages in the university’s history.
“Reversing the trend on enrollment is a major step forward as we continue to focus on increasing excellence across campus,” Tressel said last week.
ENROLLMENT REPORT HIGHLIGHTS
Here are some highlights of this fall semester’s enrollment that should be music to the ears of the trustees, administration, faculty and staff:
Freshmen class enrollment of 2,159 is a 4.4 percent increase from last year.
The number of new transfer students is up 6 percent – 569 to 603.
Graduate-level enrollment (master’s and doctoral students) is now at 1,361, compared with 1,295 in the Fall of 2015.
The average ACT score for incoming freshmen is 21.77, up from 21.19. It’s the highest freshmen ACT average in YSU history. The number of incoming freshmen with ACT scores of 30 and above is up 22 percent, from 79 to 96.
There’s another statistic that demonstrates the success of Tressel’s enrollment initiative: Incoming freshmen are from 449 high schools in 25 states – up from 421 high schools in 19 states in 2015.
Though YSU remains a commuter college, the number of students living on and around campus is increasing.
All university residence halls, as well as the YSU Courtyard Apartments, are at capacity with 1,278 students, an increase of 124 from two years ago. In addition, the new privately owned and operated University Edge apartments on Rayen Avenue are filled with 162 students.
While Tressel is deserving of credit for making the increase in enrollment a top priority, the work of Gary D. Swegan, associate vice president for enrollment planning and management, must be acknowledged. Swegan has done a good job of developing a strategy for recruiting students beyond the region of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
One of YSU’s biggest selling points is the tuition rate.
The full-time tuition of $8,087 for undergraduate Ohio students is the lowest of public universities in Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is about $1,600 less than the statewide average. Wright State University is the second lowest at $8,730.
With college student debt a major issue nationally, the cost of attending Youngstown State becomes an important marketing tool.
Nonetheless, Tressel has laid out a series of initiatives designed to lower the $28,000 median debt amassed by YSU graduates, which was the second highest of Ohio’s public universities and colleges.
But as we noted in an editorial last year, the debt is largely a reflection of the economic realities of the students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.
One way of reducing college student debt is to ensure that undergraduates earn their degrees in four years, instead of the state average of six years today.
Indeed, Gov. John R. Kasich has delivered a firm message to college presidents that he expects progress on this front to be made sooner rather than later.