‘These are important hires’: OSU president Carter on regional deans during campus visits

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During a time of transition for most of Ohio State’s regional campuses, new President Ted Carter said he is committed to ensuring the regional sites remain a vital part of the university system.

“I’ll just say it very clearly. The regional campuses are here to stay,” Carter said Wednesday in Mansfield when asked about the future of OSU regional campuses. “They are a part of our system. They are an important part and, again, if we are really going to fulfill our land grant mission dating all the way back to 1870, this is one of the most critical parts of our mission.”

Carter visited the university’s five regional campuses this week for the first time since he assumed his presidency.

Carter’s Tour de Regional Campuses began at the Lima and Newark campuses Tuesday, followed by the Marion and Mansfield campuses as well as the Agricultural Technical Institute in Wooster on Wednesday.

“It’s heartwarming to see what we’re doing,” Carter said Tuesday morning at the Lima campus.

Carter said he wanted to get to the regional campuses as soon as he could to see what life is like on each. He met with deans, staff, faculty and students at each of the campuses, including Ohio State University Lima students Kyria Knous and Ely Roa.

Knous, a third-year student studying social work, and Roa, a fourth-year biology major — both from Wapakoneta —said there are lots of opportunities at the regional campuses, but stigma can hold some students back from applying or attending.

“College wouldn’t have been an option for me if not for the Lima campus,” said Knous, who receives the full-tuition Arthur and Marian Rudd Scholarship.

“There’s a stigma that Lima or regional campuses are not as good as Columbus,” Roa added. “My experience shows that’s not the case.”

Both students said the smaller class sizes have allowed them to better network with their professors and peers, and they have some of the same extracurricular opportunities as Columbus campus students, such as studying abroad.

Knous plans to study abroad this summer in Argentina. Roa plans to graduate this spring and begin medical school at the Columbus campus this fall.

OSU regional campuses search for leaders

Carter’s visits come as these regional campuses are in a moment of flux.

Four of Ohio State’s five regional campuses — LimaMansfieldMarion and Newark — are hiring for their next permanent leaders. The Wooster campus is under the purview of the dean of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, housed at the university’s Columbus campus.

All four leadership searches began on July 19, 2023, and are being executed by Buffkin Baker, a Tennessee-based higher education executive search firm paid for by the university.

No interviews have yet taken place for any of the four dean positions. Carter said he’s looking for leaders who are academics and who can draw both students and faculty to the campuses.

“We need all that talent here,” he said. “We’ll be careful. These are important hires.”

Undergraduate enrollment has also taken double-digit hits at all five regional campuses since the pandemic.

Newark, the largest of Ohio State’s regional campuses, enrolled 2,422 students in fall 2023 for the current school year, a 15.6% decrease from 2020. Lima saw the greatest hit to enrollment, down 24.7% during that same period. Enrollment at the Mansfield campus is down 16.6%, Marion is down 23.6% and Wooster is down 15.5%.

Enrollment did rebound a bit in fall 2023 at three of the regional campuses year-over-year, though, after a decade of decline.

Mansfield (2.5%), Newark (7%) and Wooster (3.6%) all saw a bump in their total enrollment in fall 2023 compared to fall 2022. But Marion and Lima saw fewer students, down 1.6% and 9.5% respectively.

OSU President Walter "Ted" Carter Jr. and John Thrasher, professor in the art department at Ohio State University's Mansfield campus, chat Wednesday in the Pearl Conard Art Gallery.

Carter said regional campuses nationally and statewide have seen slowed student enrollment over the last 15 years.

When asked if he foresees making any big changes at the regional campuses, Carter said he’s “going to make sure these campuses remain successful.”

“We can’t just let the environment determine our future,” he said.

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One person who feels positive about the future of the regional campuses is Newark campus Dean William MacDonald.

MacDonald, who will step down in June after 20 years in leadership at the campus, said Newark is “poised for a really strong future” thanks to its position near Columbus and the Intel microchip development site in Licking County.

Looking forward, MacDonald said he hopes future deans will prioritize focusing on student success at the regional campuses, from expanding housing and dining options to closing the graduation gap for all students.

“It will take time,” he said. “But this remains a strong institution.”

Reporter Lou Whitmire contributed to this report.