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Lawmaker sees trouble for some W.Va. colleges

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Squeezed by continuing cutbacks in state funding and a declining pool of state high school graduates, some state colleges may not be able to survive long-term, Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale said Tuesday.

"We've got some institutions that really are financially in trouble," Plymale, D-Wayne, told a legislative interim committee.

Plymale said prospects for a second year of 7.5 percent cuts in state appropriations, coupled with an ongoing steady decline in state high school students is forcing state colleges to compete for survival.

"Some institutions are going to be in dire straits in terms of keeping open, frankly, and institutions graduating at 25-27 percent rates are in trouble," he said.

According to figures from the Higher Education Policy Commission, four-year colleges with six-year graduation rates currently below 30 percent are Bluefield State, West Virginia State, and the West Virginia University Institute of Technology.

Asked to elaborate, Plymale said, "When you see what the budget projections are, with another 7 1/2 percent cut, it could be difficult for them."

The Tomblin administration cut state appropriations for many state agencies, including higher education, by 7.5 percent in the current state budget, and have asked agencies to submit 2014-15 budget proposals that incorporate another 7.5 percent spending reduction.

Other higher education issues discussed during legislative interim meetings Tuesday:

| A study of tuition cost data found that West Virginia University is the best in-state tuition bargain, compared to its peer institutions.

In-state tuition of $6,090 is 66 percent of the average tuition of its peer institutions, at $9,243 per school year.

At the high end, Shepherd University's $5,834 tuition is 85 percent of what its peer institutions charge in-state students.

Bluefield State has the lowest out-of-state tuition as a percentage of its peers, at $9,944, or 62 percent of average.

Shepherd and West Liberty have the highest out-of-state tuition rates, each at 95 percent of their peer institutions. WVU's out-of-state tuition of $18,868 is 76 percent of its peer institutions average.

"As an in-state institution, it's a big bargain compared to its peers," Angela Bell, state higher education vice chancellor, told legislators. "As an out-of-state institution, it's still a bargain compared to its peers."

Perhaps because of that, WVU enrolled 10,245 out-of-state undergraduate students in 2012-13, nearly double the out-of-state enrollment for all other four-year colleges combined.

Marshall University had 1,381 out-of-state students, followed by Shepherd, with 1,371. Marshall also charged 957 students from Ohio and Kentucky a discounted metro tuition rate.

| HEPC officials said they are working to improve and accelerate remedial classes for incoming freshmen who are not prepared for college-level coursework.

State higher education Chancellor Paul Hill said of students taking remedial classes, "It seems to be the quicksand, where students who get in it do not get out."

He cited figures showing that, for every 100 students required to take developmental math their first semester, only 22 will go on to earn a four-year degree. Of those who fail the developmental class, only about two will ultimately go on to graduate.

Hill said college administrators are sold on the need to reform remedial classes to improve student success rates.

He said of students who enroll in college, but drop out, "These students are lost to the system. They're lost to the state's economy, and they're lost even as a revenue source for the institutions."

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


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