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Report: WVU Tech needs big financial boost to survive

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia University Institute of Technology's survival requires a short-term infusion of $35 million and a long-term investment in the neighborhood of $100 million, a report released Tuesday shows.

The 37-page report by The Revitalization for WVU Tech Team found critical problems with finances, infrastructure, enrollment and student services at the Montgomery campus.

"This report is in depth, and sometimes hard to swallow," Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Brian Noland told the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Initial responses from committee members were not enthusiastic. Notably, committee members voted to accept the report, rather than approve its recommendations.

"This money is quite significant," said Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. "Every institution has contacted me and said they would love to have that same amount of money."

He added, "We've got problems at various institutions, and those problems have been exposed in various ways."

Asked by Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, if the Legislature could opt to do nothing with the recommendations, Noland responded, "The report is clear that action must be taken to assure there is a future for WVU Tech."

Key recommendations in the report, prepared by a team of nationally recognized academicians, include:

  • Increase enrollment to 1,800 students - the minimum enrollment necessary for the college to be self-sufficient. Fall 2010 enrollment was 1,209 students, representing a five-year decline of 18 percent.
  • Make significant improvements to the physical plant on campus.
  • "If the governing bodies cannot commit to a $5 million to $7 million investment for each of the next five years, the revitalization legislation of 2011 will be seen as merely an exercise in futility," the report states, referring to SB486, which mandated that the HEPC develop a revitalization plan for WVU Tech.

    Noland said buildings on campus not only pose life-safety issues, but also have outdated facilities and labs.

    "The bottom line is that WVU Tech cannot recruit students without significant improvements," the report adds. "Without recruiting, enrollment losses will occur to the point where WVU Tech cannot operate unless WVU keeps providing additional support. That would and should be a completely unrealistic expectation." 

  • Eliminate the football program. Intercollegiate athletics consumes an "almost unheard of" 11 percent of WVU Tech's total operating budget, with football alone costing $700,000 a year, the report states.
  • "WVU Tech cannot ignore the cost burdens imposed by athletics, particularly those incurred by the football program," the report continues. "The elimination of football would provide immediate financial benefits."

    The report notes that the nearly 50 percent decline in enrollment over the past decade "has left WVU Tech continually starved for operating funds."

    It points out that, without an annual $2.5 million subsidy from WVU, WVU Tech would not be able to make payroll.

    "Several WVU Tech constituencies believe WVU Tech is a 'cash-cow' but the reverse is true," the report states. "The question is, "How long can WVU Tech be reasonably assured that WVU will provide this subsidy?"

    Plymale, meanwhile, suggested that the costs of WVU Tech's revitalization should be shared 50-50 between the Legislature and WVU, but implied that scenario is unlikely.

    "If we come up with half, will WVU come up with half?" he asked.

    The report goes on to point out that while a majority of students and alumni "favor a free-standing, independent West Virginia Institute of Technology, the [revitalization] team agrees that today, WVU Tech has neither the enrollment nor the financial base to warrant independent status."

  • Develop a "distinctive educational experience," with an emphasis on cooperative education and internship programs with area businesses.
  • Improve on-campus student services and activities.
  • "There are few recreational activities in the local community," the report notes. "Students and staff report that students frequently drive to Charleston for recreational and entertainment reasons."

  • Despite being a branch of WVU, strengthen the Tech identity and brand.
  • "Several alumni have withheld contributions, unclear as to whether they would be giving to WVU or to Tech," the report notes. "As one alumnus pithily expressed his frustration: "I am a Golden Bear, not a Mountaineer, and I am not sure what my school is."

    Committee members will discuss the report in detail during the November legislative interim meetings.

    Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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