CHARLESTON, W.Va. – One of the loudest groans in state budget cuts in recent years came from the state’s higher education institutions.
Colleges and universities found themselves in a competitive environment and, when the funding dropped off from Charleston, most asked students or their parents to help make up the difference.
For the coming year, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin hasn’t called for any automatic across-the-board cuts. The question is whether the schools will hold that same policy when considering hikes to tuition and fee structures for the next academic year.
“I think my commissioners would all agree they would like to see all institutions take that into account and try to hold down tuition increases as much as possible,” said Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission. “That said, we’re already one of the lowest tuition states in the nation, so we’ve done a pretty good job with that.”
Hill said it’s encouraging to know the next budget can be built without starting in negative territory as they have in recent years. Budget cuts for higher ed, just in the past two years, have totaled more than ten percent.
“As we were told all along, there would need to be a cycle we would go through,” he said. “We were told there would be cuts and then we would move beyond that.”
Hill said he’s hopeful this year’s lack of any ordered cuts is the “beyond” promised. However, the Tomblin Administration may not have asked for cuts, but they have asked for schools to look at more efficient ways of delivering education. Hill said that’s always a work in progress.
“Whether we could outsource some services like food service or on-campus maintenance, can we save dollars there,” he said. “We’ve already looked at some of those programs from the institutions who are doing them.”
Hill said higher education in West Virginia needs to be a priority, particularly in a state where only 27 percent of the population has a college degree. Despite the recent increases in cost, he said a West Virginia college education is still a bargain when compared to other institutions across the nation.