Tressel Lays Out Challenges YSU Faces; Budget Still No. 1

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – In his first state of the university address, President Jim Tressel didn’t sugarcoat the challenges Youngstown State University faces.

After delivering a 45-minute brag about the many accomplishments and achievements its faculty and students have achieved during the 13 months he’s been in office – especially honors and recognition won nationally – Tressel turned to what the university must contend with to remain viable.

Since assuming office July 1, 2014, Tressel began, “This might have been the greatest year of learning in my life.”

Using a PowerPoint presentation and delivering his remarks in a conversational fashion, Tressel said the challenges are student retention, the graduation rate, attracting more quality students, finances (including $200 million in deferred maintenance of the physical plant and paying full-time faculty and staff more) and raising funds.

This semester, YSU has reversed the 17% drop in enrollment from 2010 until 2014 and, while he declined to provide specific numbers, Tressel pointed to the increased size of the incoming freshman class. He was especially pleased by the enrollment in the honors program

Official figures come out the 14th day of classes – two weeks from today – and the president suggested the number could rise during those two weeks. “I hope we have a trickling uptick,” he told reporters who met with him afterward.

Affecting enrollment is the falling number of students who attend high schools in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties, where YSU gets 78% of its students. The university is working to recruit more students outside the Mahoning Valley, including internationally, Tressel said.

Provost Martin Abraham will visit China in October to meet with administrators of Chinese universities and urge them to send their best students here to further their education, Tressel told reporters.

Word of the excellence at YSU must be extended beyond the Valley so that high school students and their parents and guidance counselors unaware of the university learn about it and pay scrutiny.

Graduates of 423 high schools are freshmen enrolled at YSU this semester compared to 303 schools a year ago, he said.

The retention rate (mostly freshmen) has wavered since the fall semester of 2008. Year over year it has been 68.9% in fall 2009; 66.6% 2010, 62.0%, 2011 (the lowest) and rebounded since to a projected 72.94% this fall compared to last fall, which was 67.2%.

Wages have been frozen for full-time faculty and staff in their last two contracts, a situation that can’t continue, Tressel emphasized. It makes it harder for YSU to compete for the best soon to graduate doctoral candidates and recruit proven scholars at other colleges and universities.

He called the situation “not acceptable. These people are working hard and put in long hours” to help students. ”We going to be talking about increasing pay” during the lives of the contracts in effect, he promised.

Tressel is not as concerned about raising the compensation of limited-service or adjunct faculty, who have been without a raise in more than 30 years.

The fact that so many have graduated from YSU in the last couple of years has reduced the ranks of the dropouts, Tressel said. Last year, YSU issued the largest number of diplomas, both undergraduate and graduate, in 31 years. For undergraduate alone, it was 41 years, Tressel said.

He wants the university to shoot for a graduation rate of 80%, that is a student earns a degree with six years of matriculating. That seems a tall order considering that 35.4% who entered in 2005 graduated within six years, 32.1% of those who entered in 2006, 33.4% who entered in 2007 and 2008.

A higher graduation rate would increase state support, which he said has dropped at YSU to 25% of its source of funds. The state revised its subsidy formula, basing it on graduation rate instead of enrollment.

And Tressel hinted at a major fundraising campaign, saying only, “We’re working on an upcoming comprehensive campaign,” without elaborating.

The last capital campaign was conducted in conjunction with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of YSU in 1908.

Pictured: YSU President Jim Tressel delivers his first state of the university address Tuesday.

‘3 Minutes With’ Jim Tressel, interviewed by reporters following his address.

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