By LACIE PIERSON
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leaders of the two largest universities in West Virginia are calling on legislators to find a way to save funding for the state’s higher education institutions.
In joint statements from Marshall University and West Virginia University, Marshall President Jerome Gilbert and WVU President Gordon Gee this week asked legislators to discontinue the trend of the past decade of cutting funding to higher education.
The statements came several days after leaders in the state legislature indicated they are considering reductions to higher education as one way to address the state’s budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“President Gee and I are taking a stand together in support of preserving state funding for higher education as an investment in the future of our state and its people,” Gilbert said. “It doesn’t make sense to cut off one of the primary paths a state has to successful economic growth – and that’s an educated workforce. Higher education is absolutely vital to having the workforce companies want when they are looking to locate or expand facilities.”
Both releases highlighted the amount of money the schools have lost during consecutive years of baseline budget cuts and mid-year budget cuts.
“Marshall alone has had $11.5 million in state cuts over the past several years. Another significant reduction in our state allocation will give us no choice but to effectively pass the cut directly on to our students in the form of a sizable tuition increase,” Gilbert said. “That will be a real hardship for our students, three-fourths of whom are from West Virginia.”
State allocations to West Virginia’s colleges and universities have been cut $56.6 million since 2013, and further cuts would be devastating to students and their families, the presidents said.
“We have always protected our academic mission and done our best to keep our tuition affordable and accessible,” Gee said in the release. “However, West Virginia University has taken nearly $30 million in state reductions over the past three years. Any additional significant reductions would jeopardize the quality and value of an education that a student at West Virginia University receives, as well as the programs and services we provide to the state.”
An NPR report earlier this month showed at least 24 states in the United States have experienced lower-than-expected budget revenues, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Those shortfalls have resulted in cuts to higher education spending in several states, including Iowa, New Mexico and Louisiana, according to the report.
With their statement Tuesday, Gilbert and Gee were working to make sure legislators sought other options in West Virginia.
“I realize it may seem easier to cut our way to success,” Gee said. “However, the worthier option is to invest in those things that will bring prosperity to our state. The best way to propel West Virginia into prosperity is to leverage its assets. West Virginia University, Marshall University and our sister institutions here in West Virginia are assets to this state. And we remain committed to helping our state’s leaders forge solutions that will drive real change.”
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