The future of YSU with enrollment decline

Graphic by Shianna Gibbons

By Shianna Gibbons

Youngstown State University released its fall 2023 Preliminary Enrollment Summaries, showing a 4.8% decrease in full-time undergraduate students and a 16.2% increase in full-time graduate students since fall 2022.

The total headcount for full-time fall 2023 students has a 0.7% decline, from 11,072 in fall 2022 to 10,993 in fall 2023.

Provost Brien Smith said counting a universities’ enrollment is a complex process and that enrollment is constantly changing.

“It’s not really a simple answer to say whether enrollment is up or down. If you look at the big picture — if you step back — it was down a little bit,” Smith said.

The enrollment is counted for full-time students, a 15-credit-hour semester for undergraduates and a nine-credit-hour semester for graduate students. Smith said on average students at YSU take less than what is considered full-time.

“If an undergraduate student takes 15 hours of credit, they’re considered a full-time student. On average, our students take something [around] 12.5 hours of credit,” Smith said. “You calculate what is the full-time equivalent of students, and that many times — or I guess all the time — comes out a little less than what the actual headcount of enrollment is.” 

Graphic by Shianna Gibbons

At the board of trustees meeting held Sept. 20, a resolution was passed that stated the board was confident YSU’s administration will take actions to tailor YSU to suit students’ needs and the university’s future.

Michael Peterson, the chair of the board of trustees, said the administration and board are focused on the students.

“The administration is looking at the [report] and making decisions based [on] that — and the biggest piece of that — is making sure it is both what our students want and need,” Peterson said. “I will give this administration credit. They are focused on giving the very best for the university [and] for the students.”

In previous board of trustees meetings, declining enrollment at YSU and on a national level have been discussed, along with different methods to combat its impact at YSU. Peterson said it’s important YSU continuously adapts.

“We’re like every other university in the country. We are all seeing a decline of people going into higher education. That’s why it is important for us to understand exactly what the community and what the students are looking for to make sure we can provide it,” Peterson said.

Smith said there are 14 public institutions in Ohio, which makes it a competitive market for attracting students but YSU has fared better than other institutions.

Graphic by Shianna Gibbons

“Over a great number of years, among those institutions that have declined, YSU has declined the least,” Smith said. “That’s because we’re very active in looking at why our students want to come to YSU.”

According to Smith, YSU’s launch of “Know Y” is a part of different strategic plans to combat the decline in enrollment and compete for incoming students on a larger scale.

Smith said YSU is also looking at different data that directly compare areas with growth, student interests, adjusting majors or program titles to be more accurate, and looking at the different components of YSU’s enrollment funnel. 

“The more we can double down on thinking strategically about enrollment and looking at new ways to bring students aboard — that’ll be important,” Smith said. “We’re looking at all facets to see how we can continually improve and reinvent ourselves.”

Smith said he doesn’t believe students should be concerned about potential cuts or adjustments.

“I know students are really passionate about [their chosen major and field]. From my perspective, students don’t need to be concerned,” Smith said. “Any changes that we would make would be sort of alone in margins, and we’re not going to cut half of the university. We have made a commitment to all of our students to make sure they finish the degree that they started.”

Smith said various decisions and adjustments will be made throughout the semester and reported back to the board of trustees in the December meetings.

For meeting minutes and board agendas, visit the YSU board of trustees’ website. Its meeting will be at 10 a.m. on Dec. 6, in Tod Hall.