Cleveland State University is “filled with people who have compelling stories that, when knit together, create a beautiful tapestry of access, determination and success for all of us.” 

That’s according to the university’s president, Laura Bloomberg, who delivered the institution’s State of the University address Thursday, Oct. 5 at the university’s Glasscock Ballroom.

Attendees included students, members of the board of trustees, administrators, and representatives from the offices of the state’s U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance. 

How Cleveland State fares matters to the whole area. Higher education institutions play all kinds of roles: employers, land owners, educators, cultural hubs. Plus, about 80% of CSU’s graduates stay in the region.

At Thursday’s event, Bloomberg was blunt about the institution’s current financial situation as well as optimistic about its future. Read on for a few big-picture takeaways.

“We Are Cleveland State” gets attention

The university unveiled its new branding campaign earlier this year, and it served as the framing for Bloomberg’s address. Phrases including “We are explorers” and “We are innovators” popped up on a screen to help the president segue between big topics.  

Bloomberg touted successes of the refresh, saying it brought 60,000 unique new visitors to its website and an 85% increase in requests for applications and more information from prospective students. 

Plus, she announced that the university’s board recently approved a plan to expand that campaign with more billboards and TV spots. As Signal Cleveland reported earlier this year, the university entered into a $1.4 million contract with a higher education marketing and strategy firm for the rebrand. 

A look at enrollment

Those metrics of interest, though, haven’t yet translated to an uptick in enrollment. Bloomberg said the university fell short of its goal to raise the number of new full-time students, though there is growth in online programs and in international students coming to Cleveland State.

She highlighted challenges facing universities like CSU nationwide: financial barriers, students choosing to go directly into the workforce, and people finding alternative ways to learn, like watching free classes on YouTube. 

“It does us no good to ignore these trends when we have the opportunity to lean into them, to adapt and to thrive in new and innovative ways,” Bloomberg said.

The university is also focusing on retaining students, and, ultimately, getting them to graduate. Bloomberg said there’s been progress in the rates of first-year students enrolling for their second year, including those with bigger financial needs and graduates of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. 

Financial future

Enrollment figures have a big impact on the university’s bottom line. This fall, nearly 14,000 students attend CSU. 

“With this level of enrollment, nearly 15% lower than in 2018, our financial circumstances do not look as they once did,” Bloomberg said. “And I expect those financial issues may well compound in the years ahead.” 

That’s based on enrollment and financial projections the university’s looking at, which “likely may” include consequential budget deficits and a continued decline in enrollment, especially of first-year students. 

Educators are smart people, and the university will figure it out, the president said, though she added, “It will not be easy, and I imagine it will likely not be without some pain.” 

A committee formed over the summer is charged with figuring out ways to bring down the university’s expenses and thinking about finding new revenue streams or expanding existing ones. 

Regarding research

The first and only explicit mention of “CSU 2.0,” the ambitious plan and rallying cry ushered in by ousted president Harlan Sands two years ago, came nearly 55 minutes into Bloomberg’s hour-long address. 

By comparison, you couldn’t miss the refrain about research. Bloomberg gave the institution all kinds of related slogans: “the region’s only public, urban-serving, research-active university,” “the urban regional public research institution in Northeast Ohio,” and “a leading public urban research university.”  

Another university on Euclid Avenue – that would be Case Western Reserve University – has long been thought to be the main research university in Cleveland. The private university is the only institution in the city that has earned a national distinction for having a very high level of research activity. 

But it seems, at least from Bloomberg’s emphasis, that CSU wants to underscore its own accomplishments and future projects. 

The president shared several highlights, including the $50 million in external research funding its gene regulation center has brought in over the past 15 years. The center studies reproductive health, the aging process, and cancer and heart disease. Bloomberg also touted a regional collaborative the university joined on sustainable manufacturing and accomplishments from current faculty, students and alumni. 

Higher education reporter for Signal Cleveland in partnership with Open Campus.