CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The State Advisory Council of Students plans to issue a petition asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to reconsider proposed budget cuts to the state higher education system.
Tomblin has asked all state agencies, including the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Community and Technical College System of West Virginia, to incorporate a 7.5 percent budget cut in this year's budget, saying it could save a total of $85 million.
Education officials have said if implemented, state colleges and universities may be looking at significant tuition increases while certain programs and scholarships, in addition to professors' salaries, would take a hit.
"The resulting tuition increases will continue to push higher education out of reach financially for many West Virginia residents as the purchasing power of financial aid programs like the PROMISE Scholarship and the Higher Education Grant are diminished," the petition states. "More college students will be forced to rely more heavily on student loans, incurring higher levels of debt, likely to drive them out of state as they seek higher paying jobs to pay the debt down."
Adam Fridley, a Marshall University student, member of the university's Student Government Association and chairman of the State Advisory Council of Students, signed the petition.
The petition, which will be circulated to student government groups across the state's institutions next month, highlights the cost shift onto students over the years, the hardships that some West Virginia students face in achieving a college education and the importance of producing more college graduates when it comes to economic development.
"Taking into account the vital importance of higher education to the success of the individual and the state's economy and the detrimental effects that this cost shifting can have, we urge you to take a stand for West Virginia higher education," the petition states. "The implementation of a 7.5 percent budget cut can only harm the state of our education and we respectfully request you to reconsider this measure."
Fridley said the proposed budget cuts have been at the forefront of the advisory council's concerns this year. The council is made up of student government representatives from all of the state's colleges and universities.
"We're not just another group of students complaining about having to pay more for college -- that's something we really want our state leaders to know. We've done the research and we've identified how these costs have been pushed on the students," he said. "This is on everyone's minds. There are certainly some crucial things on the chopping block that will cause students to [foot] the bill."
While Fridley says he's one of the lucky ones -- as his tuition is covered by the PROMISE -- he knows not everyone in the state will be as fortunate, especially if the budget cuts are imposed.
"This trend is very detrimental to college students. It comes at a time not just when the state, but the whole nation, is saying we need to produce more college graduates. I think everyone knows that West Virginia is ranked toward the bottom in terms of output of college graduates," he said. "If we keep pricing out students, we're only going to take a step back.
"But it won't just be a bad affect on students, it's going to hurt the broader state economy as a whole," he said. "If we keep pushing the prices up, you're not going to get the highly trained professionals the state needs.
"We understand the budget issues the state is facing, but we're optimistic in what we can accomplish. We've always found our state leaders to be very receptive to listening to students because it's not often that they get to hear that point of view," Fridley said.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.