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MINUTES: August 27, 2018 Full Commission Meeting (in-person)

Summary notes from Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education Meeting on 27 August at Steptoe and Johnson’s Bridgeport office 

Members participating in person or by phone: [Delegate Atkinson; Mr. Becker; President Boggess; Delegate Boggs; Ms. Cappellanti; Dr. Courts; Delegate Espinosa; Mr. Farrell; President Gee; President Gilbert; President Jenkins; Mr. Lee; Mr. Lewis; Senator Mann; President Martin; Mr. Payne]


President Gee began the meeting by asking member if they had additions, corrections, or revisions to the notes from the 17 August meeting.  Hearing none, President Gee said the notes were approved as written.

  Preside nt Gee then made opening comments in response to recent articles in West Virginia newspapers and the Chronicle of Higher Education.  He said that WVU had no plans to take over other institutions, and he believed that was true for Marshall as well.  He said neither WVU nor Marshall planned to offer administrative services to other institutions.  President Gee expressed his belief that all institutions needed strong governing boards and that those institutions large and capable enough should be largely independent from state office control.  For those institutions that need services, a state service agency should provide them.  He continued with the comment that too much time has been spent on how to move around existing money and not enough time on how to get more money for higher education.  President Gee reminded everyone about Governor Justice’s recently released statement that the commission needed to focus on the public four-year institutions and that the Governor would consider including community and technical colleges in the commission’s charge at a later date.  He concluded his opening comments by saying the “behind the back” conversations were harmful and needed to stop so that the commission could make progress. Merely right here people will always be desired, combined with golden dragon you haven't any similar!


President Gilbert said he agreed that the commission needed to focus on structural questions.  He said he disagreed about HEPC—he believes it has done good work.  He said the commission needs to talk about appropriate funding for institutions that have been historically underfunded, and that all institutions are currently underfunded.  President Gilbert indicated that the commission can establish guidelines for continuing this conversation during the fall but that the commission may not be able to solve this problem entirely by December.

President Boggess said that recent cuts to higher education have been especially tough on the regional institutions, and it is important to remember that what would be considered a rounding error at WVU is a saving grace at Concord.  She reported that people at Concord and other regional institutions are terrified and uncertain about the future—students are not sure about whether to enroll, donors are reluctant to give, faculty and staff are worried about their jobs. 


President Gee said that the commission should say no to closures and yes to new and additional funding.  He then asked the commission members to make comments, beginning with Mr. Lewis.


Mr. Lewis expressed frustration with the pace of the commission’s work, saying that the group has wasted 30 days scheduling future meetings when the real work remains undone.  He said he has suggested subcommittees to do this work and that these subcommittees should be working now and vetting ideas to bring back to the full commission.  He agreed that institutions should be independent, and that some entity between what HEPC is currently and its complete elimination would probably be most effective.  He said that Shepherd is the poster child for funding disparity and unfairness and that this needed to be addressed.


Dr. Courts said that she would like to hear from legislators about the value of HEPC, which leads her to ask: do we need more regulation or less?  Are the legislators’ needs for information and analysis being served? 


Mr. Lee stated that no one has approached him about WVU or Marshall trying to take over other institutions.  He also said that we need to increase access for students graduating from our K-12 system.  He said that the state needs to maintain a structure to ensure access, especially in the southern counties and coalfields.  He expressed his opinion that the state should not fund one school by taking from another.  He also reiterated the importance of hearing from faculty—the voices of the professors need to be heard.


Delegate Boggs said that unfortunately, higher education is low-hanging fruit when it comes time to cut state budgets and that the Legislature should stop using higher education as a backstop for the budget.  He said these cuts are negatively affecting communities.  He stated that higher education is an economic development issue, particularly in the central and southern counties.  These regions face similar challenges and many students in both regions prefer to go somewhere local for higher education.  He urged the commission to leave no part of the state, and no institution, behind in its deliberations.


Mr. Farrell agreed with Mr. Lewis and expressed frustration about the lack of action by the commission.  He said that HEPC existed because of legislation and legislative intent, and that opponents of HEPC should point out which parts of the law they wanted to remove.  He expressed a desire that the commission move quickly to substantive matters.


President Martin concurred with others’ comments.  She also said that since coming to West Virginia, she has observed that institutions and organizations here tend to work in silos.  She asked: how can we change this?


Mr. Becker shared his excitement about being asked by the Governor to join this commission and to participate in taking a fresh look at higher education in the state.  He acknowledged it is difficult for people not to be advocates for their own institutions but he encouraged the commission to have the fortitude to look at things differently.  He said we need to do this to accomplish the charge the Governor has set forth.  He also said that WVU has its own fiscal and structural struggles, just as all institutions do. 


Mr. Payne stated his belief that the co-chairs are very qualified to present ideas and recommendations based on their professional experiences.  He also said that HEPC needs to be looked at.


Ms. Cappellanti said that one of the commission’s challenges is that everyone is too tribal.  She observed that there is a lack of trust in the room, which makes it difficult to divide into subcommittees to get to work on issues.  She also said spreading garbage and conjecture is preventing the commission from doing its work.  She reminded the commission that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  She also encouraged the commission to focus on what West Virginia needs and not spend too much time looking at other states.


Delegate Atkinson stressed the importance of cost containment and also of marketing, asking: how can we make West Virginia a destination for higher education?


Delegate Espinosa said that he would welcome consensus by the commission members but that he also understood the reasons for skepticism.  He said that the Legislature thinks the future of HEPC is an important question and any reform should be done in a way that ensures the Legislature gets the information it needs.  He expressed appreciation to Dr. Paul Hill and Dr. Sarah Tucker for their efforts to get data to the Legislature to inform decisions.  He also said important questions to consider are: how much savings could be achieved through restructuring?  What additional costs may come from a more decentralized approach?  It is essential for the commission to understand these financial dynamics before it reached a decision about a different structure.  He reminded the commission about the need to be transparent.


Dr. Cole followed up on his presentation at the 27 July meeting with more information, drawn in part from the Education Commission of the States and National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (ECS/NCHEMS) State Policy Leadership for the Future report, about the different approaches of governing boards, coordinating boards, and service agencies.  He also mentioned Michigan’s unique approach of constitutional autonomy for institutions.  The purpose of this presentation was to prompt questions to guide the commission’s deliberations about structure.  The slides from the PowerPoint presentation are available on the commission website. 


President Gee said the commission would review data and information from all sources, including ECS/NCHEMS, in its work. 


Mr. Lewis suggested that the commission begin work on the funding formula to meet the December deadline for submission of the commission’s report and recommendations.


Mr. Lee mentioned that 52 of 55 counties offered dual credit courses.  He would like to see data on how many students are enrolled in these courses, by county, and how numbers would change if the remaining three counties offered dual credit courses.  He also said the tension with HEPC reminded him of the tension, in previous years, with the Office of Education Performance Audits in the State Department of Education because of frustration over the name of the agency.


President Gee called for any final comments and, hearing none, declared the meeting adjourned at 3:20 p.m.