WHEELING - West Liberty University President Robin Capehart said he was pleased to hear that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is proposing that higher education won't take as hard a hit from state funding cuts.
A mid-year budget report released Jan. 2 shows the state's General Revenue Fund is $81.5 million behind on tax collections for the fiscal year, which began July 1. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is now calling on state agencies to cut $33 million from their budgets as the state stares down an $81.5 million hole in its budget.
State agencies would endure a 7.5 percent drop in their funding, though certain areas such as public schools and corrections would not take a hit.
However, Tomblin's budget eases the blow for higher education with a 3.75 percent cut that doesn't affect grants. Department of Revenue officials said no particular program or agency would be targeted for elimination. Agencies would determine cuts themselves.
As part of those cuts, higher education in the state is taking a $3.1 million hit, according to Tomblin's order.
West Virginia University is absorbing nearly a third of that, or about $1.1 million. Marshall University must slash more than $500,000 from its budget, with other institutions cutting between $177,000 and $46,000.
Capehart said at this time he would not comment about whether WLU will increase tuition next year. He conceded the university does increase its tuition rates every year to generate money to not only cover costs, but to have the funds to "attract high quality faculty."
"We're trying to be efficient as we can. We're competing against other colleges and universities for students. And we're also competing against the private sector. We're in the national market for faculty," he said. "We need to remain efficient to keep our tuition down."
Capehart said the school held a meeting last year with legislators to explain to them the impact of rising tuition costs on students. He believes this meeting may have had an impact since the percentage has decreased.
"We're reaching a point where an increase in tuition is having a detrimental impact on the students attending college," he said.
But the university needs money to compete to hire the best teachers possible, especially in the health care field. WLU has made a commitment to improving health care in the state by training physician assistants and nurses, Capehart said.
A simple cost of living-type increase would apply to higher education "if all we were doing is buying milk and bread," he added.
"I've been here seven years and six of those seven years we've been able to create a pool of money to attract and keep high quality faculty as we grow," Capehart said.