Education

Enrollment and Budget Among Challenges for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Faculty members at Youngstown State University are faced with many opportunities to improve college life for students, but challenges still stand in the path to success.

YSU President Jim Tressel spoke frankly to some 300 in attendance at his State of the University Address on Wednesday. While there are opportunities to take advantage of — among them are certificate programs, the Distance Education initiative that launched Aug. 8, collaborations, evaluating existing programs while exploring new ones and focusing on the overall community impact of the university — enrollment and the budget are still causes for concern, he said.

“The budget is most impacted by the enrollment,” Tressel said. “We are not allowed to be in deficit. The one that I know can most quickly end my career is if we’re not in the black.”

In the last budget, Tressel thought the state was fair, he said. The state subsidy increased, allowing YSU to in turn increase funding for its Penguin Tuition Promise.

In 2018, YSU received $1 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission and $2 million from the U.S. Department of Economic Development for the Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center project, which is being built downtown at the corner of Fifth Avenue and West Commerce Street. That’s in addition to a cumulative $7 million in state capital funds allocated for the project.

“They’ve increased Choose Ohio First money, the Ohio College Opportunity Grant, funding for our students,” Tressel said. “They’ve helped as much as we could expect.”

As of Monday, however, fall enrollment stands at 11,886 compared to 12,280 this time last year, a 3.21% year-over-year decrease, he said. Tressel saw an increase of 400 students last year at this time by the 14th day of the semester, he said. The key, he said, is to make sure every student has the feeling of belonging and to know that help is at their fingertips everywhere they go.

“Enrollment is our biggest driver,” Tressel said. “Every student who does begin here, let’s not lose any of them.”

However, Tressel acknowledges economic changes in the region affect enrollment. He attributes the enrollment decrease to the idling of the General Motors Lordstown Complex.

“As we went into this enrollment period, there were a lot of unknowns,” Tressel said. “We knew we lost some students midterm and that their families were transferred. Everyone on campus was working like crazy.”

Last week, Tressel and YSU joined the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber in hosting a meeting with Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns, who is in talks with GM to acquire the plant to manufacture electric trucks. Also attending the meeting were state Sens. Sean O’Brien and Michael Rulli and representatives Eastern Gateway Community College, America Makes, Youngstown Business Incubator and Tech Belt Energy Innovation Center.

Before the plan can be realized, the United Automobile Workers has to agree for the selling of the plant, Tressel said, and GM has to decide what its future is with the plant.

“If all that occurs, the key will be how quickly can we pivot and meet the needs,” he said. “We were talking about going to study Volkswagen Academy, which is a training area in Chattanooga, Tenn. I think we’ll know maybe before 2019 is over and I think we may be responsible for finding out how we can be helpful by May of 2020.”

Tressel went on to address other opportunities for the university. The YSU Foundation’s We See Tomorrow Campaign is at $94 million of its $100 million goal, he said. Expansion of scholarships, professorships, chairs and campus beautification are in the works as well. And while Fifth Avenue does not look the part right now, the Smart2 project led by the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments will be complete by next year, he said.

The goal is to make Fifth Avenue more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, said Stephen Zubyk, project manager for Smart2. With YSU becoming less of a commuter school, Zubyk thinks it will be great for on-campus students to be able to walk to destinations in a safer way.

“It’ll provide a safer route, a more enjoyable route and a better looking route,” he said. “The rest of the project and some additional components of Fifth Avenue, we’re about 40% done. We anticipate that design work to be done by the end of this year.”

Despite the challenges ahead, as long as everyone at YSU does what they can do everything will be fine, Tressel said. “If it’s going to be, it’s up to we,” he added. Moving forward, Tressel emphasized the importance of YSU being engaged in conversations about strategic planning, the needs of the community, the needs of business and industry and the futures of students.

“Right now, we have to get this right,” he said. “I think that’s why the board made that resolution that said, ‘We have to take charge of our future.’ Sure, we’ve had some tough times. I was a head coach for about 320-some games, and I think about all the lessons we learned during those games and after it, reflecting back and analyzing.”

Whether the games went well or not, something new was learned, Tressel said. Even when things were going well, Tressel said he was nervous at the beginning of each game, just like the beginning of every academic year.

“Regardless of where you are, you’re a little bit nervous. We’ve got some challenges, no doubt,” he said. “The list is way longer of opportunities than hardships, but we have to take charge of our future, make tough decisions, do our due diligence, make sure we analyze the needs. We have to make sure we do it together.”

To drive that point home, Tressel recited a verse from a poem with his players before each game. He shared that verse during his address.

“We were a football team. We only got to one verse,” he recalled. “‘I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. And that I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I shall do.’ ”

Pictured: YSU President Jim Tressel address some 300 at his State of the University address Wednesday.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.