Pick Chancellor For the Future

Higher education in West Virginia has always required innovative, forward-looking leadership. The last few months have reinforced that point, in effect redefining it: Campus shutdowns due to COVID-19 have altered what the future will be like, and how college students will have to be prepared for it.

Leadership in preparing them, as well as in other aspects of higher education institutions, such as research and community service, is a challenge here that is not present in most other states. West Virginia has one of the lowest education attainment levels in the nation. Just 20.3% of adults 25 years of age and older possess bachelor’s degrees or better, according to the Census Bureau. The national average is 31.5%.

We need to do better.

Members of the state Higher Education Policy Commission are scheduled to select a new chancellor for West Virginia’s four-year colleges and universities. West Liberty State University falls under the HEPC’s mandate.

Two finalists for the position have been identified. One is Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker, interim HEPC chancellor as well as chancellor of the state Community College and Technical System. The other is Dr. Joe Delap, provost of Athens State University in Alabama.

What students want from a college or university may well be different in the future. COVID-19 made the need for a high-quality, technically efficient system of “distance learning” obvious.

That may go hand in hand with a crying need in West Virginia — for low-cost higher education. One need not have earned a PhD to understand the savings in taking classes from a home computer instead of paying to live in a college town and attend classes on campus.

Holding costs down has always been a challenge for higher education. It is more important here than in many other states.

HEPC members face a truly momentous decision on Friday. They need to select a chancellor for a future that is not what it may have appeared to be just a few short months ago. Let us hope they choose wisely.


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