Higher education in West Virginia

The following editorial appeared in The Inter-Mountain on January 30:

Are West Virginia’s colleges getting leaner and meaner? Let’s hope so. That is precisely what the Mountain State needs.

Higher education officials reported earlier this year that enrollment in public colleges and universities is down. In 2011, their enrollment was the equivalent of 64,427 full-time undergraduate students. But by 2014, the most recent year for which reports were available, enrollment had declined to 61,042.

At first glance, that may be troubling. Our state has one of the lowest percentages of college graduates in the nation. We need more, not fewer.

But wait. During the same period covered by the enrollment statistics, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by public colleges and universities shot up, from 8,886 in 2011 to 9,269 in 2014.

At community and technical colleges, there were similar decreases in enrollment – but increases in degrees earned.

And to put the icing on that cake, the largest increases in degrees awarded were in health care and science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We know higher education is getting leaner, as operating costs increase while tuition-paying student bodies and state support go down.

But the graduation figures may indicate West Virginia colleges and universities are doing a better job of ensuring that when students enroll, they have good prospects to graduate. At the same time, more may be earning the types of degrees that lead to high-paying careers.

The statistics are no reason for higher education officials to lift their feet off the reform throttle. To the contrary, much more remains to be accomplished and more years of improvement need to be recorded. West Virginia needs more people who succeed when they go to a college or university.

Online: www.theintermountain.com

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