Youngstown State University awarded 2,147 degrees in the 2013-14 academic year — the greatest number of diplomas awarded since the 1985-86 academic year.
Jack Fahey, vice president of student affairs, considers the number of diplomas awarded to be the most important metric related to students’ success.
“We exist to help students get a degree and hopefully go out and get a great job and be successful,” Fahey said.
Though the reasons for this success are numerous and varied, Fahey cited the increase in enrollment during the 2009-10 academic year as most important.
“We had a significant increase in enrollment in 2009 and 2010, and then we had a slide backwards in 2011, but we were still much higher than our 20 year average was by far,” Fahey said. “So, when you read all the stories about enrollment being down again, we really were just moving our way back to what our average enrollment over 20-25 years has been.”
Gary Swegan, associate vice president for enrollment planning and management, agrees with Fahey, indicating that enrollment is strongly tied to the number of diplomas awarded — an increasingly important statistic considering changes to the state funding formula.
“The way the landscape has changed in the last 4 years, and the change in funding formula to performance based means we only get paid for students that complete classes and graduate,” Swegan said.
Swegan is skeptical that enrollment numbers will return to 2009-10 levels in the near future. The university is now, however, more interested in attracting high caliber students, rather than amassing headcount and accepting all students without considering academic standing.
“It’s not like we could return to 2010 as it was, even if we wanted to, because the new world order is that we’ve got to ensure that our students at least have the chance to be successful and not bring in students in open admission that you could look at … and say ‘not a snowball’s chance,’” he said. “But, in those days A) that was our mission, and B) the state funded you strictly on the basis of your headcount. It was what we were supposed to be doing; it was giving access and opportunity.”
Another important factor in the number of diplomas given that Fahey points to is the creation and development of the Bachelor of General Studies diploma.
The general studies program was created in 2005 by Jane Kestner, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, with help from the program’s current coordinator Molly Burdette.
Since its creation, the program has only gained in popularity; it is now the third most populous degree on campus.
“We expected, when we first began the program, that we might get 10 students the first year. We have routinely between 140-170 majors,” Kestner said.
Kestner believes the general studies program to be highly important to facilitating student success. She thinks the program appeals to students for a variety of reasons, but believes one of the largest to be that the program can act as a second opportunity.
“I think it gives [students] a second chance,” Kestner said. “A lot of them are former students who have been out for a number of years. They took a lot of hours; they never got a degree. This gives them a chance to use those credits that they already accumulated to finish a degree.”
An additional factor that Fahey believes to be connected to the increased number of diplomas being awarded is an increase in the number of graduating veterans. The number of veterans that graduated in the 2013-14 academic year was 47. In 2011-12 that number was only 27.
Additional reporting by Liam Bouquet.