By Rachel Gobep
Youngstown State University has concerns about making the current budget work, according to Provost Brien Smith.
“To be fiscally responsible, I know that we are looking at a lot of ways to cut costs and save money,” he said.
University enrollment is down 4.3%.
According to the university’s official preliminary 14th-day count, enrollment is at 12,155 students, which is a decline of 541. Full-time equivalent enrollment also dropped by 3.6%, or 381 students.
Smith said universities use a general rule for relating enrollment to revenue: For every 100 students lost in enrollment, there is $1 million of lost revenue.
The university’s operating budget for fiscal year 2020 is $163.6 million.
“I really think that we are at a point where we need to think about every hire that we make; and every purchase of equipment that we make,” Smith said.
He said this process will include a review that looks at where adjunct faculty and instructors, as opposed to full-time professors, can teach classes.
The university currently has an average 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, according to YSU’s website.
The review will also include deciding how university programs can be more efficient, which includes program prioritization.
“Common ways that you can gain efficiency are looking at where we can deliver larger class sizes and still have high quality,” Smith said.
According to Smith, at some point the university will need to look at what programs are not in demand as overall enrollment numbers in the Midwest are falling, and YSU needs to be aware of and stay ahead of the trends in enrollment.
Smith said the university may look at a way to alter those programs but may also reinvest in those emerging as hot areas of study.
“It’s not uncommon that universities will think a lot about the kind of programs that they’re offering and whether or not those are attracting students and students are able to get degrees in those areas,” he said.
Smith said there is a high demand for psychology, social work, business and STEM programs at YSU.
He said there are also some areas that have low interest.
“They’re not what you would call, maybe, a major area,” Smith said. “So, for example, some areas in education might not have a lot of demand, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to drop education as a degree.”
Although YSU is not currently going through a reconfiguration process, Smith said he is participating in conversations with deans of colleges regarding ways the university can be fiscally responsible.
He said the discussions include the number of departments and colleges at the university and if it is the correct number.
YSU has six colleges and 36 departments, according to the university’s website. The academic unit also has a College of Graduate Studies, Honors College and Youngstown State Online, which is distance education.
Smith said the university is not necessarily heading in the direction of department and college consolidation, but “there’s no way that we’re going to continue to … move toward exciting new programs, unless we can we can free up funds and find a way to be more efficient with what we do.”
He said he prefers to engage the academic community in a discussion.
“It’s not my style to sit in my office, lay a spreadsheet out with numbers and start marking through programs to get rid of them,” Smith said. “If, in fact, we need to find efficiencies, and I think we do, then my preference is to engage faculty, chairs, deans and even students in discussions.”
One way the university plans to do this is through the Strategic Planning process.
As part of the process, the YSU community will weigh in along with the Strategic Planning Organization Team to develop a strategic plan at YSU that “facilitates positive change, builds on our current strengths, improves the culture of community, and positions YSU to be more successful in the face of a constantly changing higher education landscape,” according to YSU’s website.
The team is composed of students, faculty, administrative, staff and board of trustees representatives.
Smith said the university will not look at each program as a number but as what each program entails and the impact it has on the university and community.
The process of reviewing programs and reorganizing has occurred in local universities as well.
According to cleveland.com, the University of Akron began to phase out 80 degree or degree-track programs in August 2018. Smith said YSU is not currently at that level of cutting, but it may need to happen.
“When you look at a school that has a sharp decline in enrollment, there is not even close to enough money to balance the budget,” he said. “And that’s where you move through some pretty large cuts.”
Smith said he does not see the university dropping programs at the end of the fall semester, but program prioritization can give YSU insight on which programs may need to be cut.