CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After months of plugging a massive deficit, poring over bleak student enrollment figures and trying to tap a disenchanted alumni base, the West Virginia State University Board of Governors offered some good news Thursday.
"This is the first time we've been able to announce an increase, folks," said Larry Rowe, chairman of the WVSU Board of Governors. "Our graduation rate is up. Our headcount enrollment is up. Our retention rate is up. Our budget is balanced. This is a material change."
The Institute-based campus increased its graduation rate this year by two percentage points, up to 25 percent this year.
Enrollment at WVSU has increased 1 percent -- or 27 students -- from last spring's numbers. And the student retention rate has hit 58 percent at State -- up 6 percentage points from last year.
Also, State will round out this fiscal year with a budget surplus of about $570,000.
"These numbers are great for the school because we can say this is the end of declining numbers," said Rowe. "And we were able to do it without bringing in any turnaround specialist or laying anyone off."
The state of the university's financial and student picture on Thursday marks a decided improvement from almost a year ago.
Longtime university President Hazo Carter announced in August that he would resign in June, one week after he received a vote of no confidence from the university's Faculty Senate. Many at West Virginia State blame Carter for the university's steep enrollment decline, for botching community relations and fundraising, and steering the school into a $3.5-million budget deficit.
The Board of Governors initially thought it would have to institute massive layoffs to overcome the deficit, but it managed to round out through steep programmatic cuts and strict financial monitoring, said Rowe.
The board slashed about $2 million from the university's budget this year, instituted a campus-wide hiring freeze and forced the Finance Department to approve any purchases greater than $1,000. Beginning in the fall, students will see an 8 percent hike in tuition and fees to help balance next year's budget.
By the end of the week, three candidates on the shortlist for university president will have visited the Institute campus, interviewing with students, faculty, staff and community members.
The Board of Governors wants by May to find a replacement for Carter, who will continue to collect his full $167,444-a-year salary until 2014.
Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.har...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.