University is better because of Jim Tressel News, Sports, Jobs

Transformative is a word that might best describe the 8 1/2-year Youngstown State University presidency of Jim Tressel.

Now at age 70, Tressel this week will leave his role at the helm of the university. He has exercised the 180-day exit clause in his contract as university president, and he will retire Monday.

Indeed, his tenure has included triumphs and hardships, but we strongly believe that overall, he has led the university in the right direction, leaving it in a condition far better than when he arrived. And that’s all anyone could really ask.

Tressel, a native Ohioan, said he was always inspired to do what he could to uplift this community. From our point of view, and we also suspect that of countless supporters, co-workers, fans and former students, he has fulfilled that goal as both campus administrator and coach.

It’s true many will recall Tressel fondly for his time in the late 1980s and 1990s as Penguins head football coach. That’s when the team claimed four national championships — the most ever under a YSU coach.

Undeniably, though, Tressel has excelled well beyond the spotlight of college athletics. Today, he will be remembered as a leader and trendsetter on campus, including in new development, investment and new construction that has been transformative, not only for the campus community, but for the city of Youngstown and, truly, the entire Mahoning Valley.

Tressel has long been known for surrounding himself with good advisers and, well, people in the know.

During a recent farewell interview with our education reporter — and YSU graduate — Chris McBride, Tressel said, “I think that you come in and assess your people. You assess your opportunities.”

That, he said, is how you build a plan.

That’s why his first course of action as president was to seek guidance from students.

The students he calls “presidential mentors” advised him to “fix the streets” on campus and growing student housing.

Millions — much covered by grants — were invested in streets, sidewalks, landscaping, curbs, lighting, parking and more.

Then, millions more were spent on developing luxury apartments to house hundreds and hundreds of campus residents at a school previously known only as a commuter college.

Of course, Tressel also helped oversee a resurgence in the university’s academic performance, expanding the Honors College, receiving the Higher Learning Commission accreditation, and more.

He was proud to tell our reporter, “The retention rate, which when we got here was about 64 percent, now it’s close to 80 percent. The graduation rate was around 33 or 34 percent, and now it’s nearly 50 percent,” Tressel said.

With an eye on the future, the university has now entered into a partnership focusing on helping the Electric Vehicle industry build and scale a sustainable workforce around advanced manufacturing, energy storage and other integrated technology solutions, such as artificial intelligence, 5G and cybersecurity.

Indeed, it’s all very impressive. But some of his even greater feats might be university fundraising.

Tressel said he set out to find ways to raise more money for scholarships, to leave students with less debt and lower education costs. Year one saw the university doubling its fundraising — a trend that continued throughout his tenure.

Notably, YSU and the YSU Foundation secured a record $24.1 million in gifts during the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Despite these best efforts, enrollment at YSU has trended downward in recent years, no doubt affected by other outside forces including, but not limited to, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Still, we believe the educational offerings here, coupled by affordability due in large part to available scholarships and funding, and the campus’ physical development, will give YSU a leg up for regrowing enrollment.

This man who has become well-known for buzzing around campus in his golf cart-like utility vehicle — waving at students and picking up those who need a lift, particularly in inclement weather — said it’s his time interacting with students that he will miss most .

We suspect the feeling will be mutual.

We offer the most sincere congratulations to President Tressel for his vast success at YSU and in life. He leaves incredibly large shoes to fill, and for that we urge him not to be a stranger.

In fact, from our vantage point, a transition by Tressel into a reduced, but continued, role in Youngstown State University fundraising efforts would suit him — and the community — very well.

But whether or not that’s meant to be, we wish him and his wife, Ellen, nothing but the best in good health and happiness in this hard-earned retirement.

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