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WVU Tech still hopes to revitalize campus

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin may have denied a request to fund major improvements at West Virginia University Institute of Technology in his 2012-13 budget, but university officials said the lack of state dollars won't derail plans to revitalize the Montgomery campus.

"We're working very hard to look at efficiencies and effectiveness and do some of the things that don't cost a lot of money or any money in terms of making sure students feel comfortable," said Carolyn Long, transitional leader at Tech. "We are still very positive about finding ways for Tech to work efficiently and effectively without this funding."

University officials had hoped Tomblin would dedicate a portion of the budget to fund massive changes in capital improvements, administration, academics and student services recommended by the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

At the request of state legislators, the HEPC released a blueprint to remake Tech, which is burdened by plummeting enrollment and a breakdown in campus infrastructure. The report said Tech needed a short-term commitment of about $35 million to fix deteriorating buildings and another $100 million down the road to keep the school afloat.

"The bottom line is that WVU Tech cannot recruit students without significant improvements," said the report. "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."

Soaring Medicaid costs swallowed up the money from the governor's budget that would have financed improvements at Tech, state budget director Mike McKown said last week. Medicaid will require $111 million of new funding for the 2012-13 budget, costing $500 million.

"The governor supports education at all levels. However, the state must dedicate a significant amount of resources toward Medicaid funding this year," said Tina Stinson, an information specialist for the office of the governor. "It is our understanding that there are a number of policy decisions that must be made before funding needs can be determined."

Long said Tech officials plan to home in on specific recommendations of the revitalization report and ask for smaller state grants to finance the most important improvements.

"We need to focus our mission and vision and still will be talking to the Legislature to find extra funding," Long said, adding that legislators have been "very willing to talk."

In November, members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Higher Education Accountability approved the HEPC's revitalization report but made no moves to fund it.

"I'm quite uncomfortable committing that amount of funding," said Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. "If I had that much money, I don't know that I'd put it all into one project or one institution."

HEPC interim Chancellor Paul Hill said members of the HEPC and the WVU Board of Governors have formed a steering committee to break the report down into digestible portions and then ask the Legislature for money in the form of supplemental grants.

"We did not have a finite budget request placed for the governor," Hill said. "Our request simply said there is a Tech issue, without defining an exact amount. Rather than take the report all as one, what this steering committee will do is work on identifying more refined recommendations in the next few years."

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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