YSU President Wants Integration of University and Business

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University President Bill Johnson wants to integrate the university with the business and industry community.

“If the business community of the Mahoning Valley thinks that Youngstown State can survive based solely on state and federal funding, you better wake up,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Johnson was the guest speaker Wednesday at a Rotary Club of Youngstown meeting at the Tyler History Museum. 

He pointed to the $41 million Kilcawley Center renovation project for which fundraising is ongoing. He called the center a home away from home for thousands of YSU students.

“We’re struggling to raise that money,” Johnson said. “We shouldn’t be struggling to raise that money if the business community was integrated well with the university.”

Earlier this year, Bruce Zoldan, founder of Phantom Fireworks, suspended his $5 million donation to YSU for the student center project until 60 days after Johnson is no longer president and university trustees agree to a transparent presidential search. Prior to Zoldan pulling his donation, the renovated center was to be named for the Zoldan family.

Johnson told Rotarians that applications, admissions and scholarships are up this year, and he reviewed how YSU is adding programs to meet the needs of Eastern Gateway Community College students who may transfer to YSU.

Eastern Gateway paused enrollment after the spring semester and is expected to begin the process to dissolve in June unless it receives an influx of sufficient additional funds by May 31. 

“We were asked by the state, ‘Can you fill it in? Can you take these programs, the credentialing for workforce development, the certifications, the associate’s degrees? Can you stand up these programs beyond the spring semester?’” Johnson said.

YSU is going to have a second physical location in Jefferson County. Johnson said he doesn’t know the location yet, but “we hope they will be in the same place that they currently are.” But YSU doesn’t own those buildings. That has to be worked out with the state, he said.

“And we’re going to have a secondary campus here in Youngstown, too, for the kinds of things that Eastern Gateway did,” Johnson said. “By the fall, it is our intention to have as many as possible – and it will be most of them, of the programs that Eastern Gateway provided – up and running.”

YSU committed to Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Higher Education that the transition for Eastern Gateway students to YSU would be as seamless as possible, he said.

“We are committed to making that happen,” Johnson said.

While he said he couldn’t provide a dollar figure, he said “the state fully recognizes there are startup costs associated with this.”

There will also be operational costs, “so there has to be some increase in SSI, state share of instruction, that will give us the money we need to operate and maintain these programs going forward, Johnson said. 

Several Rotarians at the meeting posed questions about the Eastern Gateway programs, as well as other concerns.

Barbara Brothers, a retired YSU dean, pointed to what she called a lack of understanding of the past. There was a community college that was a part of YSU several years ago, before Eastern Gateway expanded into the region.

“So some of your questions seem to me to be irrelevant,” Brothers said. That school was located inside Cushwa Hall at YSU, she said.

“I think it also reflects something that I’m concerned about, and that is knowing the community and the place where you are,” Brothers said.

The connection between the university and the community it serves is significant, she said. She said she’s concerned that conversations with the community have not occurred regarding programs at YSU and what’s being eliminated.

“You can’t just count numbers, because things have connections to other things,” Brothers said. “… What we do at the university has a profound effect on the community.”

She said she’s concerned about music and art programs being cut.

Johnson said the academic realignment that occurred in early January came after three years of study.

“You can’t make something for $100 and sell it for $35 and expect to stay in business,” he said, adding that he’s a musician and loves the arts.

The majors that were eliminated had a small number of graduates over the past few years.

Gerri Jenkins, executive director of MyPath Mahoning Valley, said YSU will get students enrolling who are underprepared for college. MyPath serves students in the Youngstown, Warren and Campbell school districts, helping them prepare for life after high school. Services include financial aid counseling and admissions assistance.

Many students from the urban districts didn’t attend in-person school for about two years due to Covid, she said.

“They can’t write. They can’t read. They can’t do arithmetic,” Jenkins said. “Those are the programs you’re going to have to start and implement if you want to pick up and get enough people. The Eastern Gateway folks they’re poaching, they’re only going to stay a year or so.”

Johnson said DeWine is coming to YSU on April 15 to launch his literacy campaign.

“He chose Youngstown State because we are recognizing some of the concerns that you are expressing,” he said. 

Later Wednesday, the YSU Academic Senate considered more certificates geared at Eastern Gateway students who want to transfer to YSU. The body is expected to vote whether to approve the additions later this month. Last month, the academic senate approved adding 32 associate degree and certificate programs that were offered at Eastern Gateway.

Pictured at top: YSU President Bill Johnson speaks at the Rotary Club of Youngstown’s meeting at the Tyler History Center in Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.