Johnson Says He Will Focus on Boosting YSU Enrollment

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A week into his tenure as the 10th president of Youngstown State University, Bill Johnson lists boosting enrollment as a top priority.

“Where do we go to find those students to get them to come to Youngstown State?” he said.

Former President Jim Tressel and his administration developed a strategic plan for YSU during the last couple of years he was in office, laying out goals for the university.

“There was a statement in that plan. … ‘We want Youngstown State to be an anchor university in northeast Ohio,’” Johnson said Monday. “I don’t want it to be an anchor university. I want it to be the anchor university.”

He pointed to the decline in undergraduate enrollment at YSU, a problem shared by universities across the country.

“There are fewer fish in a smaller pond, so we’re going to have to cast a wider net,” Johnson said. “We’re going to have to work more aggressively with industry to find those students. We’re going to have to work with our military.”

YSU is accelerating its online presence as one way to appeal to more potential students, but he said there are other ways to increase enrollment as well.

“That’s going to be one of my primary focus areas,” he said.

He listed honing in on students who are homeschooled as one way.

“We can also do some things about admissions,” Johnson said.

YSU is considered a restricted admission university, meaning a certain ACT score is required to be admitted.

“I want us to look at how to help those students who might be first-time, first-generation students that might be diamonds in the rough – figure out if they can make it or not,” he said. “I was one of those kids. I didn’t think I was college material until somebody expressed some confidence in me and showed me that I could learn.”

Johnson said he understands there are pitfalls to that, and he’s not necessarily opposed to YSU being a restricted admissions university.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to produce a workforce that works for industry because workforce needs are shifting like grains of sand under our feet,” he said. 

We live in a digital economy, and technology is advancing at a rapid rate, the YSU president said.

“There are so many competitions for workforce,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to produce a workforce that’s flexible, that’s adaptable, that’s agile because workforce needs are changing in weeks and months sometimes, whereas it used to be years and decades. We’ve got to be smarter about being forward looking.”

He plans for YSU to continue to offer programs, however, that serve students interested in the arts and humanities too.

“We’re not going to become a technical college,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to become a certification college. We’re going to give the full spectrum.”

Music, the arts and humanities are the how-to skills to navigate life and they’re important, he said. 

Johnson is an arts enthusiast. He’s acted in community theater and used to play guitar and sing with a country/classic rock band while in the military.

“I love the arts more than people probably think I do,” he said. 

Both his undergraduate and graduate degrees are in computer science, but the arts have played an important role in his life too.

“I met my wife when I was a singer and an actor and she was a dancer in community theater,” Johnson said.

He spent the first week of his new job sitting down with various constituent groups.

“We had meeting after meeting after meeting – a lot to learn obviously,” Johnson said.

He’s met with deans, the executive committee of the faculty union, international students and many others. He said more sessions are planned.

He’s learned a lot, he said.

“This is a big place. [There are] a lot of moving parts and a lot of professionals that are working hard to deliver a quality education,” he said. “The care and concern for our students, to make sure that our students are No. 1, was paramount in every meeting that I went to.”

He said he recognizes the importance of diversity on campus as well.  

“Diversity has always been a key part of my leadership style,” he said. “I’ve always had a very diverse group of people around my table. There’s no more diverse subset of our society in the United States than the United States military.”

He wants the university to remain diverse.

“I want a lot of voices around my decision making, and everyone is going to have a voice,” Johnson said.

While the new president said he hasn’t found any weaknesses at YSU, he sees many strengths.

“The strengths are the enthusiasm of everybody here, from the leadership team to the faculty to the staff. The willingness to sit down and collaborate around the table – it’s exceptional,” he said. “It’s absolutely exceptional. There’s a feeling of family here. If you’re a Penguin, you’re part of the family, and I love it.”

Pictured at top: YSU President Bill Johnson.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.