(WKBN) — Thursday, YSU President Jim Tressel continued to share his thoughts as he prepares to retire from the University. WKBN Community Affairs Director Dee Crawford spoke with Tressel in our In-Depth segment about a big challenge for the next President: the declining number of local students enrolling.

“Well, it’s an interesting challenge. As you know, as the demographics of our region have been slowly going down. We know that outside of our honors college, our student-athletes and our international population, 90% of our students come from right here. We were created for access for this region and so those numbers are going down way faster than we would like. I happen to believe one of the most important things for the future of this valley, this region, is to repopulate this region. And we’re going to have so many opportunities. You know, whether it’s the Ultium plant or the Foxconn things going on or the petrochemical play, that’s going to happen south of us. There are going to be so many opportunities to repopulate this region, which will impact our enrollment because when there are more families coming here, their children will more naturally look at us as one of the opportunities for higher education and so the other unusual thing that’s happened, and you were a big part of this as the readiness of our students kept getting better, they started graduating a little faster. Yes. And probably the biggest thing that as I go to sleep at night thinking about is for 100 years, our graduation rate was in the mid-thirties and now it’s up over 47% and we’re on our way to 50%. Well, that impact on enrollment means they’re leaving and so you’ve got to replace them with lower demographics. So we’re really working hard. We’ve created this division of workforce education innovation, which I think will have a lot to do with repopulating the area. Some of it will be for additional qualifications for our current students. Others will be to get students back into the educational pipeline, get certified, get into these new opportunities that are going to happen in this region, and then maybe they’ll be back as YSU students,” said Tressel.

One of the true value points of skill base the board of trustees looked at in the hiring process was a need for the economic growth for the region, not just the education piece, but the employment piece.

“There’s no question and I think everyone looks to us just like if you recall when they had that GM money that was sent back to the Valley with GM leaving. One of the first people they came to was Youngstown State to say, hey, help us populate this Ultium plant. We need 1500 workers, good jobs. By Q4 of 22, and will you help us train them, recruit them, track them? And so that was a natural for our Division of Workforce Education,” said Tressel.

Friday and Monday on First News at 5, Dee continues her conversation with Tressel, looking at the future of YSU.