Gordon Gee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Cooler temperatures led to cooler heads at Monday’s Blue Ribbon Commission meeting on four-year higher education.

Absent from Monday’s meeting were the accusations that had occasionally marked the first few meetings.

The funding formula for the state’s higher institutions took up the majority of the 21-minute meeting.

“We are seeking input on the funding formula from all the presidents of the four-year institutions in West Virginia,” Marshall President Jerome Gilbert said.

WVU President Gordon Gee cited the strong revenue numbers to start the fiscal year in West Virginia as a positive sign that coming up with a fair funding formula for the state’s institutions of higher learning could be a less difficult task than first anticipated.

“We can come back, because of the fact that higher education has taken a disproportionate amount of reductions, and really seek to have some restoration of our funding and/or to use a temporary formula to do that.”

Del. Paul Espinosa (R – Jefferson, 66), Chair of the House Education Committee, said he’d still like to see the committee approach a funding formula that doesn’t address the possibility of additional revenue.

“We’ve seen very little change in how we’re funding our institutions,” he said. “That would be my request or my desire — to have our funding looked at not just in terms of how much additional money do we need to bring various institutions up to an even level, but how do we achieve equity in the absence of any significant additional funding?”

Gee said that was sage advice, but said the committee should operate as an advocate for a bigger piece of the pie when budget talks heat up next year.

“If we do our homework, we should be able to make a very strong case for additional funding for higher education,” he said. “That is part of the reason for the Blue Ribbon Commission — not simply to move the chairs around on the Titanic, but rather to try to get the Titanic headed in the right direction.”

Additionally, the commission discussed plans for subcommittees — including a subcommittee on structure and organization and a subcommittee on collaboration. The latter would focus primarily on how four-year colleges can best collaborate with other entities in public education, the State Board of Education, communities, and smaller technical colleges.

“Collaboration between public education and higher education is just something that we have never really addressed, and we really do need to address that now,” Gee said. “So, I think the opportunities are great.”

The commission will next meet Oct. 2 in Bridgeport.

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