YSU’s history master’s program sunsets

By Jessica Stamp

The history master’s program at Youngstown State University will no longer be offered to students after this semester. The decision was made during fall 2022 to sunset the program because of low enrollment and lack of financial funds.

Charles Howell, dean of Beeghly College of Liberal Arts, Social Science and Education, said there was a high demand for the program but with few students and funds — the decision to cut the program was made from a financial viewpoint.

“We’re faced with making hard decisions,” Howell said. “[We] have a climate in which we’d have declining student enrollment and that’s a challenge to make ends meet.” 

According to Howell, the decision to end the program was made by department chairs, including Brien Smith, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. 

Smith said a decision to sunset any program goes through a process called program review where a program is reviewed under different criteria, primarily financial stability and longevity. 

“Sunset programs are ones that there’s financial difficulty in keeping the program open,” Smith said. “If you look at data, you’ll notice that for some [master’s] programs we lose thousands of dollars every time we teach it, some of it tens of thousands.”

Howell said the department’s priority moving forward is to create multiple education opportunities for undergraduate students such as internships, studying abroad, research with faculty and traveling to conferences. 

“Undergraduate programs are now going to have two practicum courses which gives students the opportunity to go into the steel museum and develop exhibits,” Howell said. “That is an opportunity that they did not have under the old configuration of programs.”

Sabrina Krause, a history student in the master’s program, decided to come back to YSU to get her master’s degree. Krause found out through email the program was ending.

“They didn’t clarify as to what’s going to happen to us, especially the ones working in the museums like, ‘Are we going to get pulled from the museums?’” Krause said. “My focus is on museum work and it would be kind of a waste for me to be sitting behind a desk and grading papers for professors.” 

Howell said students already in the program will be able to complete it but no new students can be accepted.

The Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor museum and Ohio History Connection have a partnership with the history master’s program to help graduate students learn how to give tours, work a front desk, provide research material for exhibits and run the archives. 

David Simonelli, a history professor, said he was against the sunsetting of the history master’s program because it would limit exhibit material for the museum and students’ ability to learn highly marketable skills. 

“Last semester, we had three graduate students, maybe four, working on three different projects all of which were presented at the museum, so [sunsetting the program] reduces just the sheer flow of projects going through the museum exhibits,” Simonelli said. 

Simonelli said the master’s program also allows high school teachers to teach history College Credit Plus classes in local schools.

“By having the graduate program, we can have them take the necessary coursework for essentially what they call a MAT, a master’s specializing in teaching of social studies, to allow them to go out and teach out courses in local schools,” Simonelli said. 

With the program gone, Brian Bonhomme, a history coordinator and professor, said the department is trying to come up with an alternative solution to continue working with the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor museum and Ohio History Connection.

“We’ve made some alternative propositions to [the Ohio History Connections], which particularly focuses on emphasizing undergraduate education and moving some undergraduate classes to the museum,” Bonhomme said. “The termination of the history program … has definitely had a negative impact on our student’s ability to serve the community, and our ability to provide quality teachers for social studies, history and political science.”

Gabriella Vass-Gal, a junior history major, said sunsetting the master’s program has impacted the number of classes she can pick because her applied history minor was a part of the program.

“There are a lot less classes to choose from when it comes time to pick classes to register for,” Vass-Gal said. “The professors are always super super helpful about trying to get things to work out but it just kind of sucks because we don’t really have a choice in what classes we have to take.”