West Virginia Legislature Goes to College
Leaders speak out against potential cuts
CHARLESTON — West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee says across-the-board cuts to the state’s higher education funding would create “mediocrity” at a time when leaders should be looking to support institutions that create jobs and are the biggest employers in the state.
Gee and presidents from other colleges and universities throughout West Virginia gathered at the Capitol in Charleston Wednesday for “Higher Education Day” at the Legislature. During the morning, the presidents met privately with individual lawmakers, then were recognized with presentations during House and Senate sessions. Some stayed to meet with more lawmakers in the afternoon.
“Our message is a simple one,” Gee said. “In times of limitation … you have to support the things that will create jobs, create opportunities and create prosperity. And as for those things in this environment that don’t do that — then we have to make different kinds of decisions. The notion that cutting anything across the board — whether it be higher education or anything — is a formula for mediocrity.”
Gee cited figures from Gallup stating that since 2008, the nation has created 11.8 million jobs — but only about 80,000 that require only a high school education or less. Most new jobs require at least some education after high school, he said.
“In other words, in a new economy, higher education is the engine that drives the economy,” Gee said. “And our own university, West Virginia University, is the single greatest creator of jobs in the state.”
“We are now the largest employer in the state. In the last year alone, our health system has created over 2,000 new jobs.
“So what you do in this kind of environment is support the institutions that are going to create jobs and possibilities and keep people here,” Gee continued. “That’s the kind of decisions we need to make in the budgetary sense.”
WVU’s budget for the current school year was $1.04 billion, according to figures provided by the school. The figure reflected a $5.4 million reduction in state funding for 2016-17, and WVU has lost about $30 million from the state over the last three years.
West Virginia Northern Community College President Vicki Riley said it is WVNCC’s hope the state will at least retain its current level of funding to higher education without any additional cuts. WVNCC has lost $1.1 million in funding over the past six years.
“We would like them to hold level funding for community colleges,” she said. “They’re also talking about keeping the 2-percent budget cut we got last year. Without challenging that, it would be manageable. We’ve accounted for that in our budget. But we really need to maintain our state appropriations because the only other source of revenue we have is tuition. We don’t want to pass that cost on to students, because we want to keep college education affordable.”
West Liberty University President Stephen Greiner also expressed concerns about cuts to state funding. Since 2009, WLU has been cut about $2.3 million, according to Greiner.
“As you might expect, that impacts you every day,” he said. “That’s over $2 million you don’t have that you did eight years ago. Additional cuts would impact. We wouldn’t be able to do any improvement projects or renovation projects. We would have to look at every single account.”
The last resort for WLU would be layoffs, according to Greiner.
“When you have major cuts, it’s hard to avoid,” he said. “I will do everything possible not to touch staff, but it’s very difficult to do.”