By Amanda Tonoli
Youngstown State University continues on its upward enrollment trend because of moderate selectivity admission, said Gary Swegan, university associate vice president for enrollment planning and management.
“As you get better-prepared students, it would stand to reason that you would be more successful in getting them to the finish line – graduating them,” he said.
As of fall 2016, YSU had an enrollment of 12,756 students, a 2.2 percent increase and the first since 2010.
The 2010 academic school year brought an influx of about 15,000 students at one time due to lack of jobs during the recession, Swegan said.
But from the 15,000-student high, YSU experienced a downward trend as time went on.
“During a major national recession, our enrollment went from 13,800 [average] to 15,194 in fall 2010 and then went right back down,” Swegan said.
The sharp and high increase, he said, was not healthy.
“It was not successful in terms of graduating all of those students,” Swegan said.
Over time, changes in state funding for students decreased attendance. In addition to student state funding, university state funding forced university leaders to rethink admission practices. This led former YSU President Randy Dunn to enact moderate selectivity in fall 2014.
To be admitted, students must have at least a 2.0 grade-point average and at least a 17 score on the ACT test.
The proof of selectivity benefiting enrollment lies in the honors program admission, Swegan said.
In 2014, YSU admitted 96 freshman students – out of about a 1,800 first-year class – into the honors program. In 2015 and 2016, YSU admitted 175 and 273 freshman honors students, respectively.
Swegan said he predicts there will be 300 freshman students – out of about a 2,300 first-year class – admitted into the honors program, pushing the program close to 900 students in total. President Jim Tressel’s goal is to reach a 1,000-student mark.
The growth, Swegan said, is because the selectivity is making YSU a more attractive place to be.
“The standards haven’t changed,” he said. “More students are just coming.”
Since moderate selectivity was enacted, the freshman admittance into the YSU honors program has increased about 8 percent.
Another indicator is an upward trend of retention rates. The trend over the last few years has been between 72 percent and 73 percent, Swegan said.
The selectivity is pulling in students with better college-ready skills, holding onto them and eventually graduating greater numbers of students, said YSU spokesman Ron Cole.
And Swegan predicts, and hopes, for retention to continue to reach new bounds.
“We have a real chance to be at 75 percent retention,” he said. “We are going to be well above where we’ve ever been.”
For overall enrollment, Swegan hopes to hit the 13,000-student mark either this fall or fall 2018, but said YSU’s “gains aren’t predictable until July.”
A reason for this is the 2017 spring graduating class – made up of 2,387 students – was the second-largest in the university’s 100-plus-year history.
“To maintain high enrollment numbers, it is going to take a lot to even replace them just to break even,” Cole said. “[The graduating class] graduated more quickly – even above and beyond – than what we expected.”
But Swegan said he has a good feeling.
“Now we are positioned for sustained success,” he said. “Our orientations for freshmen have been all full.”