By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s institutions of higher learning can’t afford more state budget cuts, members of the state Legislature’s joint committee on finance were told Monday.
Paul Hill, chancellor of West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, said in a time when employers are looking for a more educated workforce that West Virginia’s two and four-year institutions can’t absorb many more budget cuts. He said state contributions to institutions of higher learning have dropped from $309 million in 2013 to less than $246 million for the 2018 fiscal year.
At the same time, jobs are becoming more technical. Hill said 51 percent of available jobs are expected to require some education beyond high school by 2020, with the percentage going up after that.
But the cost of state budget cuts is being passed on to students, Hill said.
He said average tuition at state schools has gone up 75 percent since 2008, with the average college tuition now running at about $7,500. Other educators have noted that West Virginia, previously known for its inexpensive college tuition, is rapidly catching up with other states.
Financial aid options also aren’t keeping up with rising costs, Hill said. He said Pell Grant awards have gone up about $200 during the past several years, while the average student is paying about $1,400 more for tuition.
Hill said the return to the state is good for those students who graduate; he said an average of about 65 percent of students who graduate from two or four-year programs in West Virginia end up in the state’s workforce.
Hill said higher education officials aren’t necessarily asking for more money when the Legislature returns to regular session in January.
“The budget (request) is completely flat,” he said.
Hill said educators fear federal officials will cut their part of the match if state funding isn’t restored.
State lawmakers may be able to stop more budget cuts. State Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy told members of the joint finance committee that revenue collections so far this year are only about $8 million short of projections, compared with an $87 million shortfall for the same time period last fiscal year.
Hardy said the revenue numbers were “encouraging, without being too optimistic.” Revenue collections so far this year have not required mid-year budget cuts undertaken during the past few years.
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