YSU Identifies 11 Departments for Possible Cuts

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Another year of low enrollment has led Youngstown State University to identify 11 departments that may face retrenchment or non-renewal.

Enrollment numbers collected from the Fall 2022 14th day enrollment census indicate YSU’s overall 2022-23 enrollment will be down 4% in full-time equivalent students. 

In an email Monday, Provost Brien Smith notified faculty of the enrollment numbers and the departments that could be affected.

The departments are as follows: 

  • Department of Accounting and Finance
  • Department of Art
  • Department of Communication
  • Department Criminal Justice and Consumer Science
  • Dana School of Music and Theatre
  • Department of English and World Languages
  • Department of Health Professions
  • Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Department of Mathematics and Statistics
  • Department of Physics, Astronomy, Geology and Environmental Sciences
  • Department of Teacher Education and Leadership Studies

YSU-OEA, the union representing the university’s faculty, denounced the decision in a news release sent Tuesday. YSU-OEA President Mark Vopat said the decision will create chaos for students.

“Our courses and programs should be our top priority as a university. Instead, YSU’s administration is taking a hatchet to education while refusing to address administrative bloat and overspending on athletics,” Vopat said. “Administration is using preliminary numbers and estimates to make permanent and damaging cuts to academic offerings at YSU.”

Vopat said this is the second year in a row the university has “turned first to our programs and professors to make cuts.”

YSU’s ongoing Academic Program Enhancement and Effectiveness Initiative regularly reviews and places the 161 academic programs in one of four categories: grow plus, grow, sustain and adjust. The APEEI results were released on Sept. 14 and identify several programs with the 11 departments listed.

Every five years, the board of trustees of each state university in Ohio must submit a Low Enrollment Course and Program and Duplicate Program Report with recommended actions. The YSU Board of Trustees approved a resolution Wednesday addressing some of the solutions proposed in response to the 14th day enrollment census, including a Voluntary Separation or Retirement Program.

The package breaks down to a cash benefit for agreeing to separate or retire from the university. The total value of the separation payment is equal to 80% of an employee’s 2022-2023 9-month base rate of pay, up to and not exceeding $100,000. The minimum cash benefit will be $45,000.

The voluntary program is being offered to faculty to “take other austerity measures to reduce spending,” according to another memo sent to faculty on Sept. 13 by Smith and Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Neal McNally.

“Despite the challenges facing YSU and higher education at large, we remain strongly committed to preserving the university’s long-range sustainability. We will continue to take actions to realign spending with declining revenues,” Smith and McNally stated. “While YSU remains fiscally strong, we must act now to preserve our financial wellbeing now and into the future.”

A voluntary separation and retirement program was offered to faculty last year before 26 programs were cut, according to the memo Smith sent Monday. He stated that since then, several initiatives have been introduced at the university to attract more students, but the need to contain costs remains and greater responses might become necessary this year.

“Retrenchment and/or non-renewal decisions will be influenced by the magnitude of the response to the VSRP as well as continued gains in efficiencies and effectiveness of academic offerings,” Smith said.

President Jim Tressel said the board and the university is being realistic looking at the enrollment numbers. He said the goal is to not reach retrenchment, but the university is going to act according to what the institution needs and what is fair to employees.

“We have constantly been talking about our goal, and that is to make sure that we stay up with the compensation, fairness and needs of the workforce that we need to take charge of our future,” Tressel said. “We have our fingers crossed, but we also know we have a job to do.”

In the memo on Monday, Provost Smith stated that the identified departments are not guaranteed to be impacted entirely. It is likely that areas within a department with the considering factors will be the focus:

  • Low enrollment.
  • Low enrollment, and the program is duplicated at nearby universities.
  • Under-enrolled classes, especially those at the junior and senior levels.
  • Falling enrollment and low student demand from the market.
  • Low market growth potential.
  • Poor mission fit with the department and college.
  • Low student/faculty ratios (generally evidenced by low/under-enrolled classes)

The memo announcing the potential cuts sent a wave of uncertainty through campus. Smith clarified his original memo in an email Tuesday evening.

“It has come to my attention that there is some uncertainty for students across campus in regards to a memo sent to the faculty yesterday,” Smith said. “This list does not necessarily indicate entire departments, programs or majors will be impacted.”

Smith added that the university has a commitment to current students to allow them to graduate with the courses needed to be successful in their chosen field. If a decision is made to terminate a major, YSU will provide students enrolled in the major an opportunity to finish his or her degree.

President Tressel said he understands the uncertainty among staff and students. He said while the uncertainty is unsettling, enrollment has declined for several years.

“Uncertainty is hard for students – it’s hard for faculty, it’s hard for administrators, it’s hard for the community,” Tressel said. “The responsibility that our board is given is what necessitated the resolution to remind the administrative team that ‘Hey, this is what our job is: to make sure that we can be financially responsible,’ and we’ve been working on that for quite some time.”

Board Chairman John Jakubek said that the university has been anticipating the shrinking demographic of college-aged adults in the United States. He said YSU had made “a lot of great strides” over the years related to increasing enrollment, but it doesn’t happen overnight.

“We’ve got to be very cognizant of those facts and sometimes changes need to be made,” he said. “Some changes may need to be made because of the results of this decrease in enrollment. We respect the work that they do and we will support anything that they feel is most appropriate at this point in time.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.