If the proposed academic changes at YSU are implemented, the Gerontology program, along with 12 other undergraduate programs, will come to an end, despite the rapidly aging population of the Mahoning Valley.
YOUNGSTOWN – Prior to landing a job at Direction Home of Eastern Ohio, Cassandra Valentini, the agency’s community liaison, interned with the non-profit organization, which provides services to the elderly and people with disabilities in the counties of Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula.
Valentini was a student in Youngstown State University’s undergraduate program in Gerontology, a four-year degree focused on the study of aging.
“It was a wealth of knowledge,” said Valentini. “I have learned so much about the regional agencies on aging. I learned all the different federal rules and how fundraising works. They really prepared me for success at Direction Home of Eastern Ohio.
She credits the program with “helping me become who I am today”.
And the feeling is mutual. For years, Direction Home has relied on the Gerontology program for talent and research.
Last year, Direction Home interns who are gerontology students at YSU investigated the new Get Out and Dine program, which encouraged older people to eat out and ended up supporting the food industry struggling during the pandemic.
But, if the proposed academic changes at YSU are implemented, the Gerontology program, along with 12 other undergraduate programs, will disappear due to the lack of “strong market” and “efficiency” – despite the rapid aging of the population of the Mahoning Valley.
What is gerontology?
In addition to studying the biological, psychological and social processes of aging, gerontology students “work on ageist assumptions” and discover the benefits and programs available to older Americans, said the director of the Gerontology program at the University of Montreal. ‘YSU, Dr Daniel Van Dussen.
YSU is one of the only three public universities in Ohio which offers a major in undergraduate gerontology, according to the Ohio Association of Gerontology and Education.
Given its specialized nature, gerontology is preferred for mid-career professional pivots, especially for healthcare workers.
“I can imagine nurses with their knees exhausted or exhausted from COVID could come in and get a master’s degree in long-term care or gerontology and still work in healthcare but no longer in an administrative role,” Van Dussen said.
The tri-county region is already home to at least 100 long-term care facilities.
Currently, the program shares a department with the long-term care administration. The diploma specifically trains future administrators of retirement homes and assisted living centers.
Although housed in the same department, the programs are distinct. Long-term care administration is more business-oriented, Van Dussen explained.
If the gerontology program at YSU comes to an end, he hopes that some of the elements of the non-existent program can be incorporated into the long-term care administration diploma.
In 2018, the US Census Bureau estimated Americans 65 and over will outnumber children by 2034. By 2060, the median age of the US population will rise to 43, down from 38 in 2018.
The Mahoning Valley has already exceeded these national forecasts.
In 2020, the middle age of residents of Mahoning County was 43.5 years old, 44 years old in Columbiana County and 44.2 years old in Trumbull County.
In terms of the highest median age, Mahoning, Columbiana, and Trumbull counties rank 16th, 13th, and 12th of Ohio’s 88 counties.
“Our region is growing like crazy for the elderly,” said Van Dussen, and the elderly care services in the valley reflect that.
In fact, the demographic changes in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, he added, are “why [gerontology] program existed. “
In 2000, the median age of county residents was 40, with 17.8 percent of residents 65 or older. By 2010, the median age had risen to 42.9 with 17.9 percent of residents 65 or older. In 2020, 21.4% of the residents of Mahoning County were 65 years of age or older.
Direction Home CEO Joseph Rossi called gerontology “a great skill to have when working with older people and when looking at population demographics.”
“You see, we are all getting old, especially in this area,” he added.
Because of the program’s regional relevance, “students get very solid jobs,” Van Dussen said.
During the 2020-2021 school year, YSU hired Pittsburgh-based higher education consulting firm Gray Associates to launch the University Curriculum Improvement and Effectiveness Initiative.
The review was conducted to establish “a process of continuous improvement of the academic program”, and because no general programmatic evaluation has been conducted for several years, according to a June 23 memo from the provost and vice president of academic affairs, Brien Smith.
To the memo, Smith attached a list of academic programs categorized into five categories: sunset, adjustment, maintenance, growth, and growth plus.
“The Sunset category programs lack a strong market and are inefficient in delivery and therefore should be discontinued,” Brien Smith wrote.
The programs in the adjustment and maintenance categories have one or more areas of concern. Programs in the Growth and Growth Plus categories “have the greatest potential for increasing enrollment and revenue.”
Twelve bachelor’s programs are in the Sunset category: Gerontology, Italian, Italian Education, Manufacturing Engineering, Religious Studies, Music Theory, Music History and Literature, Family and Consumer Studies, Information Systems (b ), dance management, French and art history.
In the faculty memo, Smith described the review as “a process that gives faculty ultimate responsibility for program improvement and innovation.”
Van Dussen maintains that program registrations have been “fairly stable”. But, given the decline in enrollment at YSU in general, the numbers for the gerontology program are down, “like everyone else.”
The administration said full professors would not be affected by the curriculum changes, but part-time professors are likely to be affected, Van Dussen said.
Smith did not respond to Mahoning Matters’ request for comment.
Since the publication of the list of potential programmatic changes, local elderly care stakeholders have publicly expressed their support for the program.
“It’s a value to our community and a value to the state of Ohio,” said Rossi. For many of the students he met, it’s not just a diploma, “it’s a passion”.
The existence of the program allows it to hire specialists in Mahoning Valley gerontology “instead of having to travel to Pennsylvania” for people with appropriate academic training who are unfamiliar with personal care. elderly in northeastern Ohio.
But the best praise Rossi can give to the program is admiration for his colleagues, like Valentini.
“She understands aging, because she went through the program,” he said.
Rossi hopes the program can be saved. The same goes for Van Dussen, who would like to see YSU market the program more effectively in the future so that potential and enrolled students “can find out that it exists”.
Removing the program could lead to a “shortage of people who understand the aging process,” Van Dussen fears.
“It’s disappointing,” Van Dussen said. “I don’t know what the future holds.”