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Blue Ribbon Commission to study WV higher education holds first meeting

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. – Two major themes emerged Friday at the first meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Education, appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to review the current system: the entire spectrum of higher education, including community and technical colleges, must be included and the group must “be willing to be bold” in its eventual recommendations.

Justice appointed the Blue Ribbon Commission on July 2 to “review, study and assess the current state of four-year higher education in the state.” West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, Marshall University President Jerry Gilbert and Concord University President Kendra Boggess co-chair the Commission, which is to report its findings to the Legislature by Dec. 10.

Shortly before Friday’s meeting, Justice sent the Commission a charge to “recommend policies, structure and organization.”

He asked for policy recommendations that: support keeping schools in communities with institutional local governing boards, and that support mission differentiation, particularly, service, research, and innovation; and provide all four-year institutions the opportunity to meet goals to increase access, retention and degree attainment.

“This is a critical as anything we are doing in this state,” Gee said. “This is not about higher education. This is about West Virginia.”

Calling the state’s higher education system “strained,” Gee said, “If we don’t correct it now, we will forever regret this moment.”

Marshall’s Gilbert noted that it is incumbent on higher education to provide “incentives for our graduates to remain in West Virginia. There is a brain drain from our institutions and we would like to figure out ways to have your graduates stay in the state.”

While urging the Commission to make sure its recommendations were “data-driven,” Concord’s Boggess emphasized the need to maintain access to education across the state.

“Our students depend on us in having access points around the state and that is critically important,” she said. “We have a commitment to them and we want to do what is right for our students.

“It's about the state but it's also about our students,” she said.

Several of the Commission members lamented the absence of representatives from the state’s community colleges, wondering if they could be added to the group. Gee said it could be discussed.

Over and over, as the members talked about their hopes for the Commission, they used phrases such as “be bold,” “reach for the ideal” and “do the right thing.”

Several members referred to the creation of a funding formula as an expected eventual outcome of the Commission’s work.

“We've all chased the elusive funding formula,” said Sen. Roman Prezioso (D-Marion). “The money is probably the most important thing. I think we do produce a quality education component. It's not the delivery system (that's broken) it's the funding system.

“Probably say at the end, we’ll say if you want a quality system, you've got to fund it.”

The Commission also heard a review of the governance of higher education in West Virginia.

Jay Cole, senior advisor to WVU’s Gee, said it has been an ever-changing landscape since the state’s founding. Since then, there have been six different configurations, each with a variety of responsibilities, leading to the current West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, Cole said.

Cole also outlined questions that should be addressed as the Commission considers governance alternatives:

  • How is the board chosen?
  • What are the terms of appointment?
  • What training-preparation is required for new members? Continuing members? Who provides the training?
  • What are the qualifications for membership? What is the size of the board?
  • Is emeritus status an option to maintain quality and institutional memory? How is the board evaluated? How often?
  • How many regular meetings does the board have in a year? Subcommittee structures
  • What’s in a name?


CONTACT:

Ginny Painter, Marshall University, 304.696.4621; ginny.painter@marshall.edu

or

John A. Bolt, West Virginia University, 304.382.4707; john.bolt@mail.wvu.edu