By Rachel Gobep
The way college and technology and laboratory fees are currently disbursed is a change of common practice at YSU.
About 63% of technology and laboratory fees paid by students, or $1,472,855, have been disbursed to Youngstown State University academic departments, according to Neal McNally, vice president of finance and business operations.
Seventy-two percent of college fees, or $698,703, have also been disbursed
According to YSU’s Fiscal Year 2020 Operating Budget, $3.98 million was budgeted for laboratory and materials fees, while about $4.06 million was budgeted for college and program fees.
One-hundred percent of program fees, which are fees related to specific programs students are enrolled in, have been disbursed.
The YSU website states the laboratory fee is designed to “partially offset expenses associated with courses that make use of supplies, equipment or personnel support beyond that associated with typical lecture courses.”
This includes chemical supplies, equipment, computers, software and lab monitors.
College fees recognize the “differential cost of instruction among colleges.” This can include teaching equipment, software and lab space upgrades, among other things.
According to YSU Provost Brien Smith, the funds have not been appropriated for other use at the university.
“The benefit is if we have money available to meet the needs of students in their labs, their courses … and have other dollars available. … We can do more things at the institutional level to support student learning and increase that experience,” Smith said.
Smith said deans of colleges and department chairs were not involved in the decision to withhold fees — it was an administrative decision.
The Youngstown State University Board of Trustees passed the Fiscal Year 2020 Operating Budget in its June meeting.
The operating budget went into effect on July 1, 2019, and made it possible for the university administration to develop a “process to allocate strategic investment funding,” in hopes of ensuring the responsible use of financial resources, according to Page 4 of the budget.
“To further optimize the use of all available resources, principles and expectations associated with the proposal and use of certain types of student fees will be implemented,” the budget states. “The overarching principle will be that all such fees are centrally collected and institutional discretion will be exercised to allocate resources that are sourced from these fees. This will include the notion of holding back distributions pending demonstrated accomplishments aligned with University priorities.”
Therefore, the university has the discretion to allocate funds to different academic departments at their request, but the process is much different than years prior.
McNally said although communication could have been better, the university was transparent with its intentions because the wording was placed in the introduction of the operating budget.
“I don’t know that communicating it then versus now would have a different outcome because it’s still the same message. … It’s just change either way,” he said.
This comes as the university is currently in a projected $8.9 million deficit, according to McNally.
“There is no actual deficit because we’re managing right now through spending, mostly hiring decisions and deferring hiring positions,” he said.
Additionally, university enrollment is down 4.3%.
According to YSU’s official preliminary 14th-day count, enrollment is at 12,155 students, which is a decline of 541. Full-time equivalent enrollment also dropped by 3.6%, or 381 students.
Smith said universities use a general rule for relating enrollment to revenue: For every 100 full-time equivalent students lost in enrollment, there is $1 million of lost revenue.
McNally said the fees are part of the university’s general fund, and there is currently an assessment and review of how the funds are distributed.
Mike Sherman, vice president for institutional effectiveness and board professional at YSU, said the administration understands the university must function differently.
“The provost has made the point. The president has made the point. … It just can’t be business as usual,” he said.
Smith said although several college deans, department chairs and faculty members are upset with this, the intention was not to affect students.
“The fees will be directed to make sure that not only the student’s education but the student experience will be everything that it needs to be,” Smith said.
He said communication on his end could have been better, but it’s a two-way street.
“They need to communicate with me, and I’m still waiting on someone to tell me … how student learning has been deprecated,” Smith said.
He said if a department does not have enough funds, the fees will be distributed to it.
To request course fees, department chairs must fill out a course fee change form. The form must be approved at multiple levels.
Betty Jo Licata, dean of the Williamson College of Business Administration, said colleges and departments are diligent about spending lab fees and investing them in the students’ educational experience.
“[The fees] are spent on the kinds of materials, supplies, programming that goes directly to supporting the students’ education,” she said.
The Jambar reached out to the David Deibel, chair of the board of trustees, but he did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication.