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Budget challenges will not stop WVU from providing the best for its students

Published in The Daily Athenaeum on February 17, 2017. 

by E. Gordon Gee

Living on your own as a college student gives you a crash course in budget-balancing. If your employer scales back your working hours, or other circumstances staunch your cash-flow, ignoring the situation only makes it worse. You have to replace that income or reduce your expenses—immediately.

Unfortunately, West Virginia is in a similar position now. Economic declines and falling tax revenues have left a $500 million gap in the state budget.

Last week, in his first State of the State address, Governor Jim Justice outlined his proposal to fill that gap by eliminating wasteful spending, generating new revenues and advancing industries with high growth potential including natural gas, tourism and furniture manufacturing.

His budget proposal also includes some difficult choices, including a $5.6 million reduction in state support for West Virginia University. Between now and the end of the legislative session in April, lawmakers will consider many alternative plans, including proposal for much larger reductions.

State spending on public two- and four-year colleges is already at its lowest point in a decade. Due to previous reductions, we are already engaged in plans to reduce our spending by $45 million annually by 2020. Meanwhile, our operating costs continue to increase.

The challenge to higher education budgets is not unique to West Virginia University, nor our state, but affects institutions nationwide. Some universities have turned to raising tuition as one way to cope with these budget woes, but we have no intention of eroding our accessibility to West Virginia families with exorbitant tuition hikes. Neither do we intend to curtail the momentum that is driving growth in our enrollment, academic quality and research impact.

Instead, this is a moment to reimagine what West Virginia University can do and become. It is a moment to stay positive, make the tough decisions and accept only one goal: improving quality even further.

We can do no less for our students. Higher education has never been more important as a pathway to success. And the importance of education will only grow as our country continues the shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based one.

We are preparing students to thrive in tomorrow’s economy, where qualities such as creativity, flexibility and technological savvy will promote success. Consider, for example, the way startup firms are driving much of the growth in today’s economy.

We are giving students the skills to start their own businesses, through such programs as:

  • The Launch Lab, our resource center for budding entrepreneurs
  • Our high school and college business plan competitions
  • Our new Women’s Business Center

Project 168 is helping undergraduates enrich every moment on campus with academics, personal and professional development, community service and global exploration.

New majors and certificate programs are preparing our students for growing career fields—from the music industry and hospitality to data marketing communications and craft beer tourism.

We also have increased access to higher education in southern West Virginia by opening a campus in Beckley. I believe that education is the key to individual success. Therefore, an educated populace is the key to long-term prosperity in West Virginia. Research shows a direct link between the educational attainment of a state’s citizens and the strength of its economy. Well-educated employees command higher wages, and higher incomes produces more tax revenues for state budgets.

At West Virginia University, we are committed to doing our part to stem this current state budget crisis. However, over the long-term, our state will only prosper if we move from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality. We must stand firm in the belief that we have much of which to be proud and much to offer the world.

Being the best demands unwavering focus. It demands courage. As our students and their families know, it sometimes means making sacrifices and hard choices.

Investing in education is investing in the future.

Our University looks forward to partnering with government, business and educational leaders throughout the state to create a thriving future for West Virginians.