Tressel Outlines ‘Daunting Tasks’ Ahead for YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel today sent a letter to university employees that set forth how YSU is attempting to maintain fiscal stability.

The letter mentions the possibility of layoffs and furloughs as well as factors that work to YSU’s advantage. Here is the full text:

As we complete a semester unlike any other in Youngstown State University’s 112-year history, we want to take a moment to say thanks, to provide an update on the challenges we face and to reassure everyone that YSU remains “Y and Proud” today, tomorrow and into the future, even under these extraordinary circumstances.

In less than four months, the world, the country and YSU have experienced a social and financial upheaval that’s quite unprecedented in modern history. It’s been a life-altering, unsettling, painful and devastating stretch. We also, however, have seen resilience, courage, creativity, determination and generosity, from one end of the country to the other, and right here at YSU.

So, first, a resounding “thank you.” Thanks to those who dedicated so much effort to transition hundreds of our classes to remote instruction in less than two weeks. Thanks to our faculty and support staff for your patience, your flexibility and your unending commitment to your students and their success. Thanks to our community for donating more than $75,000 to our Penguin-to-Penguin fund for financially struggling students. And thanks, most of all, to our students for persevering in such a difficult environment, especially our seniors who we will honor this weekend at commencement and hope to have back on campus later this year to celebrate in person. The university’s collaborative response to this crisis has been no less than spectacular as we look onward to welcoming the Class of 2024 this fall.

While we’ve weathered the first jolts of this pandemic, we will need even greater strength and focus as we move through the summer, into the fall, and beyond. Frankly, we, and all of us in higher education and throughout the nation face a daunting task. Making it even more difficult is the great uncertainty about almost everything as we move forward.

For YSU and countless other universities across the state and nation, a great and immediate concern is finances. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, YSU had implemented spending controls and resource allocations that placed us on track for a balanced budget for fiscal year 2020.

The pandemic created several significant new financial challenges: a $2.2 million cut in state funding over the last three months of this fiscal year; a $3 million revenue loss via student fee refunds; and a $500,000 drop in the university’s investment income. On the other side of the ledger, YSU will receive $10.4 million through the federal Cares Act, half of which will be paid directly to students as financial assistance. The other half will be used to offset university costs. That infusion of $5.2 million should help mitigate risk of a deficit at the end of this fiscal year.

As for fiscal 2021, the projections remain trying: an $8.7 million reduction in state funding, a loss of up to $1 million in investment income, and continued uncertainty in enrollment revenue. As a guideline, each percentage drop in FTE enrollment equals about $1.1 million in lost revenue. Housing, dining and parking revenue, totaling nearly $8 million annually, may also be threatened.

It’s daunting, indeed, and yes, it will require painful choices and sacrifices across every area of the university in the weeks and months ahead. We have already had discussions with the leadership of our bargaining units about various cost management options, including employee furloughs and layoffs. Every area of the budget is under review. Discussions continue; no decisions have been made. We are all acutely aware that the decisions we make today will have a profound impact on the university for years to come.

Those decisions will be guided, in part, by the five Take Charge of Our Future Focus Groups formed earlier this month. The focus groups, made up of more than 50 university faculty and staff, will address finances, course delivery, calendar scenarios and enrollment in a post-pandemic future. A fifth group will oversee the distribution of timely, accurate and transparent communications to campus and the community. These groups are already meeting and moving quickly to formulate recommendations on a broad range of issues.

While it is important for us all to understand the severity of what we face, it’s equally critical that we recognize some factors that are in our advantage. For instance, since we’re already deep in the midst of a strategic planning process, we are ahead of the game when it comes to gathering input, studying efficiencies and exploring our future.

Also, when you look at other institutions nationally, we are exceptionally affordable – something that could be even more advantageous moving forward.

Another advantage: it’s likely that many students, maybe even some who are attending elsewhere now, will be looking to stay closer to home post-pandemic, a reality that could result in more students looking to attend YSU.

We may also have some advantages in terms of housing. Since we are less of a residential campus than many other public universities, we are at less financial risk if on-campus living were to be affected by the pandemic. And finally, in that our online offerings are not yet developed to their full potential, we are optimistic of the possibilities of great expansion in online education.

In addition to these advantages, there are numerous opportunities — to be more creative, more efficient, more attentive and more imaginative in thinking about the kind of university want to be. How we work will be different. How we gather will be different. How we teach, learn and experience college will be different. We may not have all of the answers at this point, but we do know that most every aspect of “doing college” will be different in some way, at YSU and across the nation.

Finally, in times of uncertainty and anxiety, it’s good to remember our foundations.

YSU traces its beginnings to 1908, a decade before the Spanish flu pandemic swept the world. Through two world wars, the Great Depression, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and, now, another pandemic, YSU has overcome and kept focused on its mission of teaching, service and scholarship to the greater Mahoning and Shenango valley region and beyond.

As our history proves, and after what our students, faculty, staff and community have been able to accomplish over the past several weeks, I am more confident than ever that we are again up to the task.

Thank you, stay well, and Go Penguins!

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.