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Groundhog Day Breakfast


Prepared Remarks
February 2, 2015

Good morning, and Happy Groundhog Day!

Does anyone know if the groundhog saw its shadow?

If so, I will have to send our Mountaineer up to Pennsylvania with his musket.

Actually, I would go up there myself but people might mistake me for the groundhog.

Today is truly a momentous occasion. It is a day that is celebrated by Americans every year from coast to coast.

My friends, today – is my birthday.

So I would like to thank First Exchange Bank for putting together this wonderful breakfast in my honor.

I turn 42 today, by the way.

But seriously, First Exchange Bank has been putting this event on for 20 years.

This is an amazing feat in itself – a small, independent community bank has hosted this special event for two decades now. Let’s hear it for First Exchange Bank.

I also want to thank Karen for that lovely introduction.

I assure you that everything that shaped Karen into the success she is today was probably learned in someone else’s classroom.

Nonetheless, Karen is a real asset to this community, as is First Exchange Bank.

The theme for this year’s breakfast is education.

I should know a thing or two about that since I have been president of half of the universities in the country.

Since returning to West Virginia University over a year ago, I have stressed that each person’s educational career should not exist within a box.

Education is not K-12. It should not end there, and it should not end after college.

Education is about learning from birth through life.

Some of the institutions I have served, which shall remain unnamed, were islands to themselves. We are talking about exclusive entities with an essence of elitism. They were not invested in their communities, other learning institutions, or even the general public.

That is not who we are at West Virginia University.

I can honestly say that of all the universities I have served, none are as committed to the vitality and well-being of its state and people than West Virginia University.

Instead of ivory towers, we are helping hands.

Our role as West Virginia’s flagship, land-grant institution is more significant today than ever before.

Here’s why: Government funding has plummeted across the board – from public, K-12 schools to higher education.

We are currently fighting tooth-and-nail at the Legislature to convince our leaders that education is the most precious commodity for our present and future.

But we can no longer rely solely on Big Brother to watch our backs.

We must pursue alternative paths in order to thrive as a well-informed, highly-skilled society.

That means it is more critical than ever for universities to reach across borders and boundaries, and to connect with partners beyond our bubble for a greater good.

That means colleges and universities partnering with public and private schools, K-12 and early childhood education centers.

As I stated earlier, the entire funding model for public universities is in a fast-forward decline.

West Virginia now spends 22 percent less on higher education than it did before the 2008 recession. Therefore, we have utilized public-private partnerships to boost our growth.

Our current partnerships are a great boon to both the University and the community. They will contribute $81 million to local and state tax revenues during their 40-year lifespan, including almost $1.7 million annually.

Some of these public-private partnerships include a new housing development called University Place in Morgantown’s Sunnyside area, a development that not only includes residential space, but retail space. A new grocery concept Sheetz will open there, in addition to other shops and restaurants.

Another partnership you may have heard about is our new baseball stadium, which we will share with a minor league team.

We are adapting nicely in this changing climate of funding education.

And let us not forget the costs of education for our individual students and their families. The national spotlight has never been shined as brightly as it is now on the cost of higher education and the rise of student debt.

Thankfully, students at West Virginia University are a little better off than their counterparts across the nation.

Nationally, students graduate with an average of almost $30,000 in debt.

Meanwhile, the average federal student debt for our students earning bachelor degrees is just over $23,000 – about 20 percent less.

Thirty-eight percent of our graduates actually have no student loan debt when they graduate. Also, our default rate of 10.5 percent is well below the national average of 13.7 percent.

While we are making a good effort to keep a college education affordable and accessible, we can always do better.

And standing here in front of a roomful of bankers, I know you can help us with that.

Those like myself, who are trained as lawyers, are not the greatest with numbers and dollar figures. (But we are the best in taking money.)

Keeping education costs affordable is central to our land-grant mission. It is our job to educate our students about financial responsibility while providing as much support as possible.

Perhaps we could learn from you at First Exchange Bank. I give kudos to the bank for partnering with schools in the area to teach good financial management and how to make sound financial decisions. That partnership has been valuable to those students in Marion, Monongalia and Wetzel counties for the last 20-plus years.

Like Karen said, “It is never too early to teach children the importance of the dual role of education and finances.”

I might have some of you come talk to our incoming freshmen, especially the ones who blow their financial aid on pizza, beer and video games.

Given these financial lessons, our children can benefit through life debt-free. And with continuing education, their earning power only rises.

We have long known that earning power is higher for college graduates. But a study by our College of Business and Economics also underscores the economic value of a higher education for our state.

It shows that a graduating class of the state’s college and universities generates nearly $6 billion in economic impact for the state over a 20-year period – or more than four times the $1.4 billion spent to educate that class.

That is another great reason to help our state’s graduates realize their dreams.

In closing, it is important that we all continue on this particular journey as partners hand-in-hand. Evolving is a result of collaborating. And we all can make this community and state shine brighter through partnership and education.

Thank you.