The Road to Statehood

By Brian Brennan

In 1967, the Youngstown University was admitted to Ohio’s system of tax-supported institutions. Henceforth, it would be called Youngstown State University and would receive funding from the public purse. This represented a sea change for the administration, as accepting money from the state’s coffers had been actively discouraged as a matter of internal policy.

Youngstown College emerged from the educational division of the local Young Men’s Christian Association.

It separated from the “Y” in 1944 and was fully accredited. Through private resources, the college grew to become a university in all but name, with several schools having evolved. The institution was renamed the Youngstown University in 1955.

The person behind this success was Howard W. Jones, who was appointed the university’s first president in 1935. Twenty years later, he was still in office.

A fiscal conservative, Jones claimed that he never spent one cent of public money on YU. He never had to; the university was financed through tuition, endowments and contributions from area businessmen, most of whom were highly placed executives affiliated with the steel mills and allied industries.

Some had seats on the YU Board of Trustees. Jones maintained close relationships with these men, particularly with James L. Wick Jr., a local industrialist and chairman of the YU board. Jones and Wick were such close friends that they even exchanged friendly letters whenever one or the other went on vacation.

As the 1960s approached, however, YU’s financial model began to falter. Fees and private contributions could not keep up with the needs of the faculty and students.

Faculty salaries were dismally low. Laboratory facilities and equipment were inadequate and fast becoming outdated. Money was needed, regardless of its source. The public sector beckoned.

YU hoped to receive some funding through state issue one, Ohio Bonds for Public Improvements. This was a $250 million bond issue placed on the 1963 election ballot. If passed, it would provide money to 10 colleges and universities in Ohio.

The bond would be serviced through a one cent additional tax on cigarettes. Fifteen YU students promoted the issue by taking part in a torch relay to Columbus, with the flame symbolizing learning.

The issue passed and YU received $6 million for expansion, plus another $6 million in federal matching funds.

Next, public dollars were set aside for a new engineering sciences building (now Moser Hall); however, Ohio would own the building — YU would merely lease it.

In this manner, Jones was able to keep true to his fiscal philosophy. The new structure opened in 1966. After statehood, YSU took possession of it.

That same year, Governor James Rhodes invited YU to join the state system of higher education.

Soon thereafter, president Jones retired, as did several other administrators, and was succeeded by Albert Pugsley.

In retrospect, statehood saved the university. Ten years after becoming a public institution, the steel mills began to close. Local money dried up, and the Mahoning Valley entered into a long period of economic malaise.

YSU survived — and would continue to grow.