State of the University: Mission and Transition

Youngstown State University President Cynthia E. Anderson gives the 2012 State of the University address.

YSU President Anderson presents the 2012 State of the University address before a packed house in Kilcawley Center.

Editor’s note: Watch the State of the University address here.

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While YSU and all of public higher education face a time of dramatic and rapid transition, the core mission of YSU remains what it has been for more than 100 years – to educate students, to help them pursue their professional goals and succeed in their careers, to serve the community and to make Youngstown a better place to live and learn.

That was the message YSU President Cynthia E. Anderson gave in her annual State of the University address in Kilcawley Center’s Chestnut Room.

“This institution has been successful in accomplishing its mission over the years, through good times and challenging times,” Anderson said. “And, we will continue to do so this academic year and for years and years to come.”

Anderson, now in her third year as YSU’s chief executive, said there is plenty of proof that the university has been successful in accomplishing its mission, from the thousands of successful students and graduates to the talented, visionary and committed faculty, staff and administration.

“We are a people-driven operation,” she said. “The people of this university are what create excellent academic programs, a great looking campus, and successful students. When you look to your left and to your right – you see someone who is part of the team that makes this university great.  Again, thank you all for a job well done.”

While meeting its mission, YSU is also in a time of significant transition – a “new normal” that includes a significant change in how public higher education is funded, the president said.

For decades, state support for Ohio public universities was once upwards of 75 percent at some institutions, like YSU. “Higher education was seen as an avenue to success, and public higher education was the state’s response to make that avenue as accessible and affordable as possible,” she said. “But something happened along that road.”

Today, the state’s share of YSU’s general fund budget is less than 25 percent, she said. This fiscal year and last fiscal year combined, YSU’s state allocations have dropped by more than $8 million. “Gone, and not likely to come back anytime soon, if ever,” she said. “This, my friends, is the new normal.”

As a result, public universities have to rely more on their only other major source of income – tuition revenue, which is driven almost solely by enrollment, Anderson said.

The president said YSU’s enrollment was down last year and again this year for several reasons, including fewer area high school graduates, relatively strong local economy and changes that make it more difficult for students to retain their financial aid. In response, the university is increasing its marketing budget, stepping up retention efforts, implementing new recruitment programs such as Crash Day and working to boost online classes.

“In these dramatically changing times, it is critical to our success that we are as agile an institution as we can be, but we must recognize that it is doubly difficult to be agile when we are so focused on closing budget shortfalls,” she added. “Therefore, where we invest our limited resources, will be in strategic areas that are revenue focused and designed to make us stronger. The new normal will require us to be more lean and agile than ever before, that we may plan for possible declines in enrollment and plan for gaining lost ground when and where we can.”

In conclusion, Anderson noted this quote from Winston Churchill: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

“I know I’ve been accused of being overly optimistic, overly positive,” she said. “It’s my nature, folks. These challenging times that we face, and the difficult decisions and actions that will come before us in the next several weeks and months, will challenge even the most optimistic of us…As an institution, these challenges can drag us down, but only if we allow that to happen. We cannot and will not allow that.”

She added, “This is the year where YSU shows the world just how great we truly are.”