CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At this time of year, parents and upcoming graduates from high schools across the Kanawha Valley are making the painstaking decision about what college to attend in fall 2014. There's no reason why any of the three stellar universities in the area, the University of Charleston, West Virginia State and West Virginia Tech shouldn't be part of such a conversation.
There's no good reason to send a high school graduate out of the area for the same high-quality education that can be received right here in the Kanawha Valley.
Conventional wisdom states that, with these three schools bunched together in the same region, there are too many higher education offerings for a metropolitan area of our size. A 2010 legislative audit suggests that "Several of West Virginia's schools are near another school, forcing them to compete for in-state students."
Despite this contention, I view these three schools as complements to one another, offering unique academic programs and campus environments.
West Virginia Tech, for example, should be the go-to school for any local graduate considering the field of engineering, as the university's reputation in this field is renowned. The school also offers unique majors such as forensic investigation and also has one of the strongest pre-law programs in the country. West Virginia Tech's recent success can be quantified by its recent enrollment growth in the 2013-14 school year, too.
West Virginia State has seen renewed growth under its new leadership and boasts some of the most diverse undergraduate and graduate programs in the region, ranging from a state-of-the-art communications program and facilities to a master's degree in biotechnology. A historic institution that has served the valley for over a century, West Virginia State supports the arts in the region through the Capitol Theatre and boasts several community service projects.
My own school, the University of Charleston, is the region's only private university and has expanded its curricular offerings so that any student can fulfill degree requirements through a completely online option, if desired. The university has a strong academic reputation, as seen through its top-20 regional ranking by U.S. News and World Report and recognition by The Princeton Review. Class sizes are small, and service learning is integrated into the curriculum. Finally, programs such as radiologic science and interior design, which has new renovations, are completely unique in the region.
At all three schools, there is a general studies major for any would-be student unsure of a particular field of study. For several of the local industries that are central to the economy, including health care and education, all three schools offer programs that could lead to jobs in these fields. The Charleston location alone allows for unprecedented access to state government and capital businesses, something that the universities take advantage of through internships and post-graduation employment.
At each of these schools, a would-be student could save thousands over the four years of their college education rather than spending money on room and board in Morgantown or other areas. Financial aid and, in particular, scholarships are offered at all schools. In comparison to other private schools, for example, the University of Charleston offers strong financial packages and is thousands cheaper than other private competitors in the state, including West Virginia Wesleyan, Davis and Elkins, and Bethany College.
Finally, there's simply not a more important investment one can make in the region and its growth. Each of these schools is an economic engine for the Kanawha Valley and reinvests money into the local economy. If we want a highly educated workforce in Charleston, as has been recommended for a diversified economy, then we also need to support the local institutions that can make such a workforce possible.
My recommendation for any high school graduate or adult learner considering studying out-of-the-region would be to visit the campuses in Montgomery, Institute or Charleston before making any decision. The transformative college education that one necessarily seeks may very well be in our own backyard.
Martin, of South Charleston, is an assistant professor of humanities and English at the University of Charleston.