Challenged, but hopeful for the future.
That’s how YSU President Randy J. Dunn summarized the State of the University during an hour-long address before nearly 700 students, faculty, staff and community members in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center.
“It’s probably no secret – you can all identify where those challenges are coming from,” said Dunn in his first State of the University address. “I can share with you that we have, as a community, much work to do going forward to make sure our ship is righted for some turbulent waters that are ahead of us. But the good news, I think, is that there are a number of approaches and considerable means by which we can face this future and navigate these waters.”
Dunn, who became YSU’s eighth president on July 15, talked about his three strategic priorities for the university – enrollment, engagement and excellence – and he spelled out micro and macro problems facing YSU and all of higher education over the next several months and years.
For instance, Dunn noted that the revenue model for YSU and most public universities in the state and nationwide has flipped in the past 20 years. YSU’s state/tuition revenue split used to be 75/25; today, it’s 25/75. “This isn’t going to change,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with that.
Fall semester enrollment, he said, will be down for a third consecutive year, although numbers will not be final for a couple weeks. Every 1 percent drop in enrollment roughly translates into a $1 million loss in revenue. The loss this year is on top of $8 million in lost revenue over the past two years due to state funding reductions and another $8 million in lost revenue due to enrollment declines over the past two years.
“So you’re looking there at $16 million that we have (lost) coming into this year’s challenge,” he said. “$16 million is a lot of money.”
Dunn applauded the campus for efforts to control costs, including keeping dozens of faculty and staff positions vacant. But “you can’t keep going back to that well,” he said, adding, “It’s no way to grow a university.”
He said vice presidents, deans and others on campus have begun discussions on contingency plans that can be exercised going forward depending on what happens with enrollment, but nothing has been finalized.
Dunn read a portion of a story out of The Chronicle of Higher Education about how Clarion University of Pennsylvania plans to let go up to 40 employees and dissolve its College of Education and Human Resources to offset losses in state support and enrollment.
“I did not come to Youngstown State University to have that headline reported about us,” he said. “Nor did I come to YSU to oversee the shrinking of our university.”
So, Dunn said YSU will work aggressively on enrollment, re-thinking recruitment efforts, working to identify and highlight signature programs, examining scholarships and looking at the university’s marketing, branding and social media approaches.
“We’re going to become more edgy as a campus and try to attract those students who want to know when they come to Youngstown State that it’s going to be kind of an exciting place,” he said. “We have the ability that instead of being just a university of place, to be a university of destination.”
The president said the university will continue to engage, focusing on thick, rich, meaningful and deep partnerships, and it will seek to continue to improve excellence. “People are attracted to quality,” he said. “People will follow quality. People come to excellence…People want to be associated with a winner.”
To reach the new levels of enrollment, engagement and excellence, Dunn said the university may need to decide where to take some risks. “Because we have to reinvent, we are going to have to experiment,” he said.
“It takes patience,” he said. “It takes perseverance.”
“We can’t have stasis,” he added. “We’re either going up or we’re going down. We are going to push ahead…Over time, the trend is to move forward; the trajectory is upward.”