Engineering enrollment

YSU hopes to bolster enrollment by pumping money into advertising and marketing.

The idea seems to have worked for Kent State University.

They’ve increased advertising over the past three years by more than 60 percent. Enrollment followed suit, leaping from 27,266 in 2008 to 42,235 this fall: a 55 percent increase.

Students are dollar signs in a down economy.

While getting the word out may fill some seats, YSU must examine historical enrollment trends to plan accordingly, something it failed to do this fall as it missed the enrollment mark and left a $7 million deficit.

Since 1976, state enrollment has climbed 51 percent. In that same time, YSU has witnessed a net loss of roughly 700 students.

The difference is miniscule considering the ups and downs YSU experienced over the past 35 years. However, while the state’s enrollment growth paints a steady upward slope, YSU’s historical enrollment is marred by drastic drops and unpredictable increases.

There is sense in the roller coaster enrollment trends.

Two years after Black Monday, the day Youngstown’s steel industry collapsed, marked a low point in YSU’s enrollment. The financial fallout that ravaged the community fed students to YSU.

The university enjoyed a sizable student body, hovering above 15,000 until an eight-month recession ending in 1991.

Numbers sagged, bottoming out at 11,787 in 2000, primed for the first of two recessions that would rejuvenate enrollment at universities across the state and the Mahoning Valley.

Enrollment rose alarmingly fast for the next 10 years: 22 percent at the state level and 29 percent at YSU.

The second recession, an 18-month economic downturn ending in June 2009, allowed YSU’s enrollment to plateau at more than 15,000 students for the first time in 20 years.

But sustaining that number, in light of the 4.5 percent enrollment drop over the last year, will not be afforded by stimulus money or rising unemployment.

More students than ever are attending college in Ohio. While jobs may be available for a locally undereducated workforce, enrolling students doesn’t necessarily equate to graduating students.

In the past 10 years, the national student loan debt has soared from $59.6 billion to a whopping $177.6 billion last year. State funding for YSU folded in half.

We need to get the students here, affordably.

Then, perhaps more important than enrollment, we need to graduate qualified employees while the surrounding community fosters a diversified economy that can meet the needs of tomorrow.