The passage of the Morrill Act of 1862 was a defining moment for public education in America. The legislation, named for Rep. Justin Morrill of Vermont, established a system of land-grant colleges.

According to Cornell University Professor of Government Suzanne Mettler, the law “created a new educational model that combined traditional liberal-arts education with training in agriculture, the natural sciences, and teaching.”

Mettler says that by opening the fields of study, colleges began reaching out to a broader segment of the public.

The country built upon the Morrill Act over the years by creating black colleges and passing the GI Bill so WWII veterans could attend college.  All the while, the federal government and states heavily subsidized the schools.

The reason for the significant taxpayer subsidy was two-fold: it was consistent with the belief that society benefits on multiple levels with a better educated population and it kept tuition and fees low so more students had a chance to attend.

West Virginia University has been a perfect example of the benefits of the Morrill Act.  The land-grant institution offers degrees from Accounting to World Languages in 17 distinct colleges and schools. The University opens its doors wide for aspiring students, even if they don’t meet the highest academic standards.

Historically, WVU has been an incredible bargain.  However, that’s changing.

Last week, the WVU Board of Governors approved yet another increase in tuition and fees—eight percent for in-state students and four percent for out-of-state.  For the upcoming academic year, West Virginia students will pay nearly $7,000 a year just to get in the door, before books and living expenses, while non-residents will pay about $20,000.

For in-state students that translates into a 77 percent increase in just ten years (from $3,938 for 2004-2005 to $6,968 for 2014-2015) and a 69 percent increase for out-of-state students ($12,060 for 2004-2005 to $20,424 for 2014-2015).

Tuition and fees at WVU have risen three times the rate of inflation over that period.

A critical factor in the dramatic increase has been a corresponding decline in state support.  According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the share of the University’s revenue from the state has dropped from 61 percent in 1987 to 34 percent in 2012.

WVU is not alone in this conundrum.  Mettler reports, “The vast network of state universities and community colleges continues to enroll 73 percent of all college students, but between 1990-91 and 2009, state governments decreased funding for them by an average of 26 percent in real terms—even as operating costs increased.”

One result is that students have to take on more college loans. The Project on Student Debt reports that the average debt for a WVU graduate in 2012 was nearly $28,000.

What’s the solution?  The options include more grant programs, leaner institutions, the community college route for some students, more on-line courses and increasing pressure on government to invest more in higher education, to name a few.

It’s evident, however, that the historic alliance between state supported schools and the state itself, one whose roots date back to the 18th century, is becoming strained.

In the meantime, WVU remains a good investment for students, at least those who apply themselves and take full advantage of what WVU has to offer; it’s just not the bargain it once was.



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  • Swamp Fox

    You beat me to the real truth JDC. My daughter and I visited the University of South Carolina and Clemson and the average cost was $28,000 per year. The alma mater is a bargain.

  • JDC

    You have provided no comparisons to other Regional and/or comparable Colleges. Without this comparison how can you state if it is a "bargain" or not. All you shown is that costs have increased - have they not also increased elsewhere? Provide us a comparison with other colleges with In-State/Out-of-State numbers and then state your case.

  • cutty77

    The Big Lie. Whats a College degree worth nowadays? nothing. All College's are Big Business now. The average Student loan is over 60,000 dollors per student now. A College degree is like a High School Diploma. Its means nothing.

  • Tony

    Education bubble coming soon...

  • Gary Karstens

    If you have a pulse and can color between the lines, then you can get into WVU.

    • aquarius

      you sad little man.

    • Randy

      You must have been devastated to get your rejection letter.

  • Mac

    It could be worse, PSU has been forced to close extension offices because of state budget cuts. Maybe shut down a few satellite campuses. SMH... No, I don't think that's a good idea, just stating that's what other universities are doing.

    • Aaron

      In reality, WVU should at the very least, scale back WVU-Tech as the two I's, the internet and the interstate, have all but made that campus obsolete.

  • Dave Miller

    One cost reduction would be to cut the core course requirements -reduce 30-40 hours that are non essential for a degree in a revenue generating job

    Finish school in three years cut cost 25%

  • The bookman

    The other side of this coin is that WVU is spending a lot more than it used to, with FY2015 budget at $980,000,000, just shy of $1B. The state since 2007 has actually increased its allocation to Higher Ed a full percentage point to 10.3% of total general revenue appropriations. Do we have another $400M to dedicate to WVU to support it at the same 60% level back in 1987?

    • Walsingham

      Good point. If your expenditures and student enrollment continue to grow, you can't expect the state to keep pace when you are aware of projected shortfalls.

  • mntnman

    College costs are pricing out those who cannot get Promise, or scholarships or some type of aide. Even with loans, they are being burdened by the rising cost. Solution. We need to seriously rethink the liberal arts education.

    My daughter, a rising senior at Concord U, is an education major. She has to have 120 hours to graduate. Of that amount, how many credits are tied to her education major? Want to guess. 75 hours? 60 hours. Try 40 hours. So 2/3 of her education is general studies, while 1/3 is major related. Wow? Would you go to a doctor that had that type of education? An engineer?

    While I understand the philosophy of a liberal arts education, its time has passed. It is time to more directly focus on career, less on broadening the mind and get students graduated sooner and cheaper. For educators, either reduce the number of general studies and increase education related credits, turn the last year of their education into a internship, or reduce by one year the time needed to graduate. We can reduce cost, increase competency and get people job ready quicker with the last one.

    Yeah, yeah, I know all the objections -- it is just my opinion that we spend far too much time in college on mind broadening, and far too little time on career preparation. It is time to change. A new model is needed. I won't hold my breathe waiting for change....but I will continue to speak out about it.

    • Aaron

      I said that a few days ago and was told a liberal arts education is more important than tuition cost.

    • Hillboy

      The problem with focusing primarily on ways to reduce the cost is that it ignores investigating why the upward spiral in the cost of college (1200% in 30 years) has exceeded the rate of increase of everything else, including health care.

      State support for WVU has gone from ~60% at one time to reportedly now less than 20%. As part of that reduction, I'm sure WVU administrators have been directed to operate the university more like a private business. Hoppy says, "the reason for the significant taxpayer subsidy was two-fold: it was consistent with the belief that society benefits on multiple levels with a better educated population and it kept tuition and fees low so more students had a chance to attend." As a society we seem to have discarded those beliefs. Instead of operating colleges as a public good, tuitions are now pegged to whatever the market will bear. They no longer are there to benefit the general public, they are there to benefit those individuals who are well enough off to attend.

      It's sad that we, as a nation, have discarded the concept that we all benefit from public education at the college level. For all the talk about how kids these days on spoiled, this one is not on them, it's on us.

      • mntnman

        I don't disagree with you at all. We need to address the many reasons that college costs so much (too much duplication of services, less government support, administrative costs, professors salaries for less and less work hours and classes taught, too much expansion, etc).

        While we are doing that, it would be a good time to take stock in what we are doing in colleges, how people are taught professions, and what really matters in their education. I think more concentration, more practical experience and fewer general studies would be a start.

      • Aaron

        I agree but I think we need to make changes to our entire educational system. I sent one child to Morgantown who stated he was more prepared after his sophomore year in high school then he was his senior year in high school. That is a sentiment I have heard repeated many times from successful and unsuccessful students at numerous universities and community colleges throughout the state.

        It seems that 12 years of secondary education in which we mandate X amount of Math, English and Science hours, many of which are repetitive and are non challenging on the high school level is doing more harm than good. Say, for the above average students most of the requirements are achieved prior to their junior year of high school thus they spent two years in classes that you really don't need.

        I believe we would be better of in revamping high school curriculums to offer an accelerated degrees and the student completing essentially their core classes of college during their last two years of high school.

        • J the C

          Aaron, that's happening right now in a lot of schools. I know of several h.s. seniors who have already completed their freshman year in college. Education is already being revamped...maybe not where you live. As for Mntnman's concern about his daughter's college education, I would respond that if ever a liberal arts education is important, it's true for those going into education. A teacher has to be well rounded. You can't compare the courses of an ed. major with a lot of others. It's unique.

        • mntnman

          Yes! We do need to take a look at high school -- perhaps integrating community colleges into our vocational schools; perhaps more concentration on fundamental math, fundamental reading and writing, better science and social sciences. We need to design courses that promote relevant learning; useful learning and less fluff.

          In Mercer County we use this philosophy in our Tech Ed Center. We imbed core teachers in the classrooms and teach the core subjects in a way that is relevant to the career cluster. For example, construction trades need geometry. It is amazing to watch a student who hates math jump into it when it is used in a career relevant manner. They go after it when they discover they need it to perform their career. Medical technologies need biology. They love it when its relevant to their career choice. (They don't have to memorize the animal phylum -- why do they need that?) This stuff really works.

          We need to move away from a one-size-fits-all approach and work toward an education system that promotes the best of each students abilities, and guides them into careers where they will excel, based upon what they like, where their skills lie and where they can succeed. We need to develop for each child, in partnership with the student and their parents, a plan for that student in the seventh grade. Not a generic going to college or going to work plan, but a much more specific one designed for that child. Then their education can be tailor made for them -- it is a better way.

    • The bookman


  • Jonesy

    Why not use some of that Big 12 $ to help the students. If it were not for the students we would not have a school nor an athletic program.

    • AJ

      not even remotely enough. Athletic facilitates are still among the worst in the nation. We'll need more than Big XII money to make it semi decent.

      State needs to step up to the plate a little more to help make WVU among the best academic research institutions in the nation.

      • Aaron

        By law, if a student graduates from an accredited WV high school and scores a minimal ACT score, WVU must accept them as a student even if the student takes all remedial courses. With minimal academic success in the first semester, subpar students are placed on academic probation and are allowed to attend a second semester before being expelled for academic reasons. One in four WVU students are gone after the first year.

        Such students result in a low graduation rate as well below 40% graduate in 4 years. That number improves to 59% in 6 years but requires a high number of adjunct instructors, all of which hurt WVU's academic standing.

        Were WVU to support a community college in Morgantown, they could direct questionable students there and add PhD staff to raise their academic standing but both would cost the University money. As numerous administrations have understood the problems but did little to address them, it would appear the these issues are secondary to the money brought in by borderline students.

        • Hillboy

          I question the connection you make between the number of subpar students and the number of adjuncts. I think you could just as easily make the case that the university relies on adjuncts to save money to pay for the huge number of overpaid administrators. Really, there are adjuncts and grad students teaching at almost every level, not just the first year.

          • Aaron

            Regardless of why WVU has as many adjuncts as they do, the number is high and hurts them academic standing. That is not my opinion, that comes from various sources that rank Colleges and Universities and is a primary argument of both the Big 10 and ACC in their disfavor of WVU regarding admittance to their conferences.

    • CaptainQ


  • vashti

    my out of state tuition when i went to school at WVU was $756 a semester. it was cheaper than my in state tuition had been in Pennsylvania. my father paid for my tuition out of pocket. our deal with dad was he would pay the tuition but we had to finish. if we quit we had to pay him back every penny he had expended on our college tuition. after about 2 years (i had a child and i worked part time) i talked about quitting. he handed me a bill which at the time i thought was exorbitant so i did not quit. looking back on it it was not that much money but it sure did seem so at the time.
    WVU is still a bargain comparatively speaking. the job market on the other hand is a rough world to live in right now. i have a son who is a college drop out, a son who is a grad school graduate and a son who is a high school drop out. all of them work and are struggling. my middle son, the MBA grad, has finally found a decent job and has retained his part time gig with the Tampa Bay Rays (mainly for the parking pass) but it has been a long haul and very expensive. The oldest two had scholarships that did not cover the total costs. The Promise scholarship was a help for my middle son but he took a job to cover other costs and between working and school was not able to maintain the grade point average. he chose to take out loans and work rather than live at home. a choice he may regret now but seemed very grown up to him at the time.
    at any rate WVU was still a bargain for him and he owes less than his brother would have had he graduated from Boston University. sooo althought the tuition has soared it is still lower than other schools in state tuitions. And after all there is a lot to be said fro being able to say you are WVU mountaineer grad! they are everywhere you know.

  • WVU 74

    Hoppy, the Pew Research Center (a favorite of yours, I think) recently published results of a survey in the New Your Times of June 1.

    Included was another survey from Bentley University that showed more than half of corporate recruiters rated recent college graduates with a grade of C or lower. The Bentley report specifically noted lack of attitudes and behavior needed for job success. Hiring managers noted new college graduates are not motivated and do not take initiative. They are under dependable and not committed to their employers. They need constant affirmation and expect rapid advancement. That is telling.

    The Pew Center found that more than half of college Presidents thought today's incoming Freshmen class were not prepared to begin college level study. In fact, they study less in high school than students did a decade ago.

    This is the most affirmed generation in US history. They've been raised to believe they can do whatever they want to, get everything they want, and get it yesterday! They truly their degree verifies they have the skills and talents to bring to a job setting.

    Now this 4 year or 5 year academic period in their young lives is going to cost them more. Forget about "working your way through college", you can't earn enough doing part-time jobs. Dr. Gee and others have put that out-of-reach. For most of them, graduation is a tremendous wake-up transition between their expectations and the reality of getting employed.

    • Hillboy

      I don't put much stock in these types of surveys. How would you possibly maintain some level of consistent evaluation by corporate recruiters so that you could make a judgement about an entire generation? What would make a college president qualified to know whether incoming freshmen are sufficiently prepared? Most college presidents spend more time with donors than students.

    • WVUinDE

      You didn't learn proper grammar way back in 1974, long before young people became "the most affirmed generation in US history"? You obviously don't know many young people today, or you're too busy yelling at them to get off your lawn. They’re smart and very hard working. They don’t expect the world to be given to them.

      Why wouldn't tuition skyrocket with the athletic department running the campus? Do away with big money football and educational costs will come down. Most students on campus could care less about the football team. How can a poor state like West Virginia afford an $80 million per year athletic budget?

      • WVU 74

        Didn't have to know proper grammar in 1974. I was an Engineering School graduate. But you are correct in that I no longer know many young people. That comes from being retired from my own business, and living in an over 55 Active Adult gated community.

        Didn't know the Athletic Department was running the WVU campus. I've never been back to Morgantown. But I thought the subject was the current tuition increase, and if that increase was of any benefit in attending WVU. You're free to interpret my comments as you desire.

        I'll give young people this much. They don't hold a monopoly on attitudes toward work and career. Young people of today have nothing on my generation of the 1960s. We knew we were getting screwed.

  • Aaron

    Where to begin? First, the tuition is what it is and you either pay it or you move on. As it exceeds 8% it does have to receive approval from the HEC and while they likely will approve the increase, it is not automatic.

    I suggested one way to reduce the cost was to eliminate some of the elective requirements, stating that I see no reason that a major should be made up with as much as 60% non-course related material. I still believe that. While I understand that during college the goal is to educate the student in many facets, as is evidenced by AF AM classes at NC in a recent story, many of these courses are “cake” classes meant to keep students academically eligible so that they may remain in school. To a small extent, the HEC has undertaken that step as they recently standardized all 4 year degrees at 120 hours whereas many used to require 128. While that may not seem like much, the reduction in hours did result in many students completing their degree in one less semester.

    The concerning part for me is the increase in the cost of tuition over the last decade. A 77% increase is a tremendous increase, much higher than the cost of inflation which would place WVU’s 2003/04 tuition of $3938 would be $5,074 today. More troubling is that the Board of Governors can now increase tuition 5% every year without HEC approval so the increases can be potentially endless. One fix in stabilizing a student’s cost would be to “firm” their tuition upon their enrollment at WVU just as their catalog is with that tuition remaining the same so long as they graduate within the graduation rate timeline.

    Hoppy suggest the Community College route for some students to which I have to responses. First, while many of the state’s community colleges have 2+2 agreements with WVU, there is no community college in Morgantown. The closest is Pierpont which used to be affiliated with Fairmont State. If WVU wants more students to take the community college route, they should lobby for, establish and support a community college in Morgantown. Given that they would lose tuition dollars though, I doubt we will see that happen. Second, West Virginia’s community colleges are failing miserably. Bridgemont CTC has the highest graduation rate at 16.5% and the average is only 10.3%. I’m sure it will surprise few that WV ranks 48th in CTC graduation rates but ranks above the national average in spending per completion at $43,622 per student. Much of the problem with graduation rates is that many CTC’s only offer courses once a year instead of once a semester so if you get out of line, it can easily take longer than 3 years to get an Associate Degree adding thousands to your cost.

    That’s just one area where our education is broken. Another is in our secondary education, which sends students to college unprepared as the high rate of remedial courses by WV high school graduates prove. 70% of WV high school graduates require a remedial math course, 45% require a remedial English course and 12% require a remedial course for time management. Overall, 2 of 3 WV high school graduates are required to take a remedial course. Few of these students graduate and even fewer graduate on time adding to the tremendous bubble that student loans are becoming, all of which have an effect on the colleges and universities students attend.

  • DWM

    The last thing a student should do is finance their college education with loans. Save money to start and then work yourself through college by working and taking less than a full class load. Better to graduate in six or seven years than to graduate in four with $30,000 of debt.

    I think we need to rethink the college model completely. It is a critical step in one's development, but the brick and mortar model that are parents and grandparents experienced needs blown up along with the exorbitant cost. Imagine a college professor teaching 1000 students over the internet from his study at home and all the students taking the class from their bedroom and renting the book online.

    The current model is too expensive and makes no sense with today's technology.

    • Student

      I completely agree that the current college model needs a big change. However, it is impossible to "save" and "work" through college and come out loan free unless you go to a technical school or similar. I saved money for college on my own beginning my freshman year of high school when I was old enough to begin working. I continue to work full time now, as well as take 18 hours(or more) per semester. I got 50% scholarship to my university. At my school, if you take under full time, you pay out of pocket per class. And believe me when I tell you it is EXPENSIVE. You need the loans because otherwise you couldn't do it. If you take "six or seven years" to finish, you PAY for that time. It is much more cost effective to take as many as possible per semester because the cost is the same for full time whether that is 12 hours or 21 hours. I get paid more than the average student my age because I have worked my butt off to get here, but I don't know many jobs that pay enough to cover the cost of a college education without loans.

    • Aaron

      Many schools will allow you to take classes online but you receive no credit unless you pay their tuition.

      I took an online class at WVU last year and the instructor used Yale Online lectures to teach the course. I've also used MIT open online courses and Khan Academy.

      I agree, we need to blow the current model up.

  • WV Guru

    If WV didn't have WVU, how would the upcoming generation be able to get a job in another State? Attending is a pre-immigration ritual.

    • JMB

      Funny and true.