YOUNGSTOWN - New Youngstown State University president Dr. Randy Dunn struck a sober but optimistic note Monday during his first State of the University address.
"The state of the university is challenged, but I'm hopeful for the future," Dunn said to a packed Chestnut Room of YSU's Kilcawley Center.
YSU's eighth president said the school has three key challenges: enrollment, engagement and excellence.
Dunn said he expects as much as a 5 percent enrollment decline when the university reports the fall 2013 enrollment numbers in two weeks.
"That's more than we expected. For every one percent loss, we lose one million dollars," he said.
According to a recent survey by U.S. News and World Report, the university had an enrollment of 13,358.
On top of that, Dunn noted that the university is facing a $1.9 million deficit but intends to not lose focus because of it.
Dunn also addressed the large number of non-traditional students who enroll in the university, and how the university plans to help these students graduate instead of repeatedly enrolling and withdrawing.
"The nature of a lot of our students is non-traditional, but challenges with an open access university affect graduation rates. Open access does not mean open enrollment," said Dunn.
Dr. Zera Rowlands echoed his sentiments.
"It's been a concern for us, especially when we're being judged on how many students graduate," said Rowlands, chair of the Department of Human Ecology. "We've had students who take five years to get a two-year degree or take seven years to receive a four-year degree, and it really does affect our funding and our rates on certification exams."
The university has a four-year graduation rate of 10 percent and an average freshman retention rate of 69 percent, according to reports.
To that end, Dunn said he plans to set forth various programs to help retain students, both incoming and returning, and to see them graduate. Part of that, he said, is recruiting students not just locally but on a wider scale.
"We're looking to attract students across the country. We're going to become more edgy as a campus. This is not a university of place, but one of destination. We have the programs, people, talent, facilities and pricing," he said.
Many in attendance reacted positively to Dunn's speech, including Dr. Annette Burden, with the local Ohio Education Association chapter and an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.
"I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Dunn and discussing his plan of action," Burden said. "He said he's going to be very open, and I'm looking forward to having a good working relationship with him. I'm very excited."
"I thought he was very approachable," Rowlands said. "He seemed like he was open to everyone from the maintenance staff to the governor approaching him about concerns of the university and being open to faculty to give input. He addressed the concerns we as faculty have."
Incoming freshman Sean Fields also said he feels hopeful the Dunn will make positive changes.
"It looks like he's going to get everything back on track and do what's best for everyone, students and staff. I look forward to attending classes, participating in extra-curricular things and getting my degree from YSU," said Fields.
Dunn takes the helm of the school as tuition rates are increasing. In May the board OK'd raising tuition by $94 to $3,950 per semester for in-state students and $6,950 for out-of-state students. Students in qualifying counties of Western Pennsylvania will be able to attend for $4,070 per semester.
He was hired to lead YSU in May following the retirement of Dr. Cynthia Anderson. His three-year contract will pay him an annual base compensation of $375,000.