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Leaders work proactively to ensure YSU’s future

It was not too long ago in higher education that the development of new courses, academic programs and majors was considered a good indicator of a growing, progressive university. We bragged about the number of disciplines we taught, the wide-ranging majors we offered and the academic specialties and centers we had on campus. If there was a need, real or perceived, it was filled — a new academic program, office space, staffing, etc. Money flowed from the state, with few restrictions on tuition. We opened the doors, and students — for the most part — stepped through.

Times have changed, as they always do. The flow of additional state dollars is at a trickle. Tuition is severely capped. Enrollment is steadily trending down. Students and parents are looking for programs that squarely focus on employability. Student debt has exploded. The value of a degree is under attack. The landscape has changed drastically. For mid-sized public universities like YSU, the situation is untenable. We sit still and do nothing at our own peril.

We must, will and are acting

to ensure our sustainable

future.

Thus, about five years ago, after campuswide discussions, thoroughly reviewing reams of data and gathering a renewed appreciation of the big changes taking place across higher education, YSU embarked on a comprehensive, deliberate and continuous process focused on ensuring that we are as efficient and effective in the decades to come as we have for the nearly 11 decades of our prior history. The faculty-driven process requires lots of hard work, big doses of honest reflection and difficult decisions that are incredibly necessary for the sustainable future of the university.

Part of that process is the ongoing, rigorous review of all academic programs on campus. The purpose — to ensure courses, programs and majors we offer are viable, effective and relevant to careers and community needs. For years, we talked about engaging in such a review process; however, we did not act until our national accrediting agency essentially mandated that we do so. One of the great values of the accreditation process is to assure that we do indeed continuously review our programs.

Now, we have a process in place in which YSU faculty, department chairs and deans annually review all the academic programs on campus, examining factors like student interest, job availability, competition with other universities and how each program fits into YSU’s overall mission. This tedious work informs the leadership of the institution which programs may no longer be viable, which programs may need to be adjusted, or in some cases, eliminated. For instance, we have academic programs with no students enrolled, or some with less than a handful. We have degrees and majors no longer appropriate for 21st century market demands.

If we know after extensive review that a program is no longer working, we must make changes. Unfortunately, those changes certainly could impact a small number of students and faculty in those programs. We have said all along, however, that we are committed to ensuring that any student in any such program will be held harmless. That means helping students to complete their studies. We also are committed to ensuring our faculty ranks align with programs that are determined viable. That may mean, in turn, adjustments in faculty, first through voluntary retirement and then, only if necessary, through non-renewals or layoffs.

Decisions on programs and faculty based on this year’s evaluations will be made and announced soon. Some of the decisions may not be popular with some faculty. Students, parents, the campus and community are certain to hear varying opinions. Please know that YSU remains a strong institution with great momentum, outstanding students, talented faculty and staff, and a supportive mass of alumni, donors and others who believe in YSU as the positive force

it is to the region. To remain so for the decades ahead, we must be clear-eyed, proactive and decisive.

Brien N. Smith is YSU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. Neal P. McNally, is YSU’s vice president of Finance and Business Operations.

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