By JORDAN NELSON
BECKLEY, W. Va. — The Erma Byrd Higher Education Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Friday by treating its students to a picnic and offering them over $30,000 worth of scholarships for the upcoming school year.
Dr. David Swanson, Head Chairman of the West Virginia Higher Education Foundation, spoke to students on the importance of higher education and how the center provides them with a better one-on-one education.
“Not all colleges offer what this center offers,” Swanson said. “Here, classes are smaller, professors are more apt to work with you, and students are able to receive a better education because of how close they work together.”
Swanson furthered his discussion with students by telling them how several universities will compete with each other to get students in, but at EBHEC they do the opposite.
The center is comprised of three schools — Bluefield State College, Concord University and Marshall University.
“Here we have three wonderful schools working together to achieve one goal, which is to provide a good, higher education to students,” Swanson said. “We don’t compete, we just try to provide something to students they might not be able to get somewhere else.”
Paul Hill, Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, said it is an incredible thing for students to have such a magnificent center in their backyard.
“This provides access to students who otherwise perhaps would not have the opportunity for a higher education degree program,” Hill said. “It was an experiment when the center first began, because it was difficult to have three different schools in one building, but I believe the growth is really impressive.”
The EBHEC is the first collaborative higher education campus in West Virginia, and Hill said he believes the placement of the facility couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Because this area was so underserved by a major university, this is exactly where the building needed to be,” Hill said. “It’s worked so well and the students have allowed it to continue to grow every year.”
Ashley Wheeler, 22, of Shady Spring, is one of the many students attending EBHEC and is a member of Concord University studying elementary education.
“It’s amazing how much this place has grown since it opened,” Wheeler said. “I was really young but I still remember it, and it so cool to be a part of it now.”
Wheeler said she used to drive to Athens every day to attend CU, but it was very expensive and often unsafe during the winter.
“I’m grateful that this facility is here because it has saved me so much money, and honestly, if you’re a college student, that’s something that is really important,” she said.
Wheeler said the EBHEC has made her education process easy and more meaningful.
“At a bigger campus if you need to speak to your professor, you’ll probably have a hard time finding them,” Wheeler said. “Here, since it’s smaller, I know where they are and they’re always there when I need them.
“I like to be able to talk to them one-on-one, and it’s not as intimidating as it would be trying to speak with them in front of a huge class of other students,” she said. “This is really just a great place to learn.”
Students at the anniversary event were able to place a belonging of their choice inside a time capsule set to be dug back up in 10 years.
Once placing their belongings in the capsule, students made their way to tables set up by representatives for Marshall, Concord and Bluefield State to check out scholarship options.
Jessica Kennedy, Senior Director of Communications for the Higher Education Policy Commission, said students can fill out the applications and may have the opportunity to receive scholarships during a drawing that will take place at a later date.
“It’s really amazing actually, because each school is giving away $10,000 worth of scholarships, allowing for the whole center to be giving away $30,000 in total,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said she thinks the EBHEC is a great example of unifying the higher education system and encouraging more people to go to school.
“Combining all of these institutions together can really provide for a robust college experience,” Kennedy said. “By collaborating schools, it’s inspiring that our higher education system is dedicated to expanding college access opportunities, allowing for this facility to continue to grow.”
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