‘The magnitude of the issue is manageable’

Another year of enrollment decline has left a hole in Youngstown State University’s budget that is millions of dollars deep.

Full-time equivalent enrollment — a number based on the credit hours produced each fall semester — is down by 4.3 percent from 2011 and 7.6 percent from 2010. Budget Director Neal McNally said the university will bring in $4.5 million less in tuition revenue than it had projected in the annual budget.

A contingency fund of $1 million was set aside last spring to offset a modest enrollment decline, and some unexpected increases in student demographics buffered the bank account further.

YSU enrolled 3.7 percent more graduate students and 2.8 percent out-of-state students than last year. Because of higher tuition and nonresident fees, McNally expects $600,000 and $250,000, respectively, from those students if the trend continues in the spring.

So, the actual deficit is closer to $2.7 million.

“It sounds like a big number, and it is,” but the figure is less than 2 percent of the university’s general fund, McNally said. “The magnitude of the issue is manageable.”

Ron Cole, director of university communications, said projections made as early as spring indicated that enrollment would take a substantial fall, and the administration took steps to brace for the impact.

“There were times over the summer where it looked like it was going to be in the 7, 8, maybe 9 percent range. And there was a lot of effort put in over the summer to do as much recruiting as we could,” he said.

He initiated a public relations and publicity campaign to shore up attendance.

The plan included more television advertising and programs like the first-ever Crash Day in June, which gave high school juniors and seniors a day to experience life as a YSU student. Eighty percent of eligible high school students who attended this event are now YSU students.

These efforts haven’t closed the gap, but Cole said they are a good place to start.

“Even though we still lag considerably behind our competitors, we are stepping up and doing a lot more advertising and marketing and repositioning YSU in the minds of the public as a destination of choice,” he said.

Cole echoed President Cynthia Anderson’s State of the University address, emphasizing the ever-increasing importance of tuition dollars to higher education funding, and the need to be flexible around the numbers.

“Enrollment is extremely cyclical. In the 1990s, we saw enrollment drop significantly over the entire decade. In the first decade of the 2000s, we saw enrollment increase significantly,” he said.