CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State education officials said Thursday that they were confident they could overcome major hurdles in saving West Virginia University Institute of Technology from a perfect storm of plummeting enrollment, deteriorating campus infrastructure, and a multi-million dollar budget hole.
"It's going to be a big challenge," said David Hendrickson of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and part of the 11-member Tech Revitalization team. "We're going to rework some programs and deal with deteriorating buildings to get Tech back on track."
Tech is reeling from a $5.6 million budget deficit caused by dramatic declines in student enrollment. The Montgomery campus' financial struggles caught the eye of the West Virginia Legislature last year, which commissioned a report released in October that laid out a series of broad recommendations to save the beleaguered institution.
The Tech Revitalization report said dramatically increasing enrollment at Tech -- which hovered at only 1,110 students this year -- was integral to the school's survival and said the campus needed $5 to $7 million a year for the next five years to improve campus facilities and academics and as much as $100 million down the road.
"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."
In November, the Legislature approved the Revitalization Report, but refused to fund the improvement plan.
Thursday's meeting in Montgomery was the first time the 11-member revitalization team publicly discussed the grim statistics and significant challenges Tech faces in the upcoming months. About 100 members of the public attended the event.
Carolyn Long, who stepped in as chief executive for Tech last year, said the struggling Montgomery campus needs to focus on the "3 R's" -- recruiting, retaining and rebuilding -- to see significant improvement.
In recent years, Tech has seen low student-retention rates -- and the school is ringed by counties that have some of the lowest college-going rates in West Virginia, which makes for a difficult recruiting environment.
Hendrickson said one of the biggest challenges the school faces in upcoming months is to find a way to plug a multimillion-dollar budget deficit or be forced to send tuition and student fees "through the roof."
Tech's financial problems have snowballed since March 2010, the month that Tech literally "ran out of cash," said Ed Magee, vice chancellor for finance for the Higher Education Policy Commission. WVU has propped up the school since that point, providing Tech with more than $9.2 million to keep the Montgomery campus afloat.