By Jim Workman
West Virginia Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A highly skilled workforce needed in West Virginia requires more education funds, which includes investing in the state’s community technical colleges.
That message came from Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education, during a during a budget presentation to the W.Va. House of Delegates’ Committee on Education meeting Wednesday.
Tucker said more than 26,000 students attend nine community and technical colleges in West Virginia.
Tucker pointed out that the average CTC student in West Virginia is 29 years old, with a family and a job. Non-traditional students’ needs are much different than a younger, full-time student, she added.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, pointed to a line in Tucker’s report of CTC students being 65 percent female and part-time students, which may include small children in the household. “Would free tuition help the head count (in CTCs)?” Rowe asked.
Tucker answered, about a 20 percent increase could be expected as seen in other states offering free tuition.
About 700 West Virginia businesses of all sizes partner with the WV Council for Community and Technical College Education, Tucker added. Job losses in West Virginia have the potential to populate CTC classrooms.
“People aren’t laid off on a semester schedule,” Tucker reminded the committee. “We have to accelerate our programs and availability year round.”
Private funding and federal funding sources need to be examined more closely to help West Virginia’s CTCs, she added.
An estimated 95 percent of job openings through 2020 will require education above a high school education, Tucker noted.
Affordability remains a challenge for West Virginians, Tucker said.
“We have experienced a 23 percent decrease in enrollment recently,” she said. “It’s largely because of the increase in tuition and fees. People have reached the tipping point.”
Tucker also discussed a Learn and Earn internship program and promoted expanding it, citing more than 50 companies and 3000 students have participated.
In other House Committee on Education news, a resolution was discussed proposing an amendment to the state Constitution to provide rule-making oversight for the election of six members of the state board of education on a nonpartisan basis. Three would still be appointed by the governor, with Senate approval.
Currently, all nine members are appointed by the governor. Their terms could also be reduced.
If the resolution were to pass legislation, it could be on ballots for voters to decide on amending the constitution.
Then, details of the bill would likely be discussed in the 2019 legislative session.
“If it’s put on the ballot (in 2018), people won’t fully know what they’re getting yet,” stated Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh. “Have you ever heard of a pig in a poke?”