Low-cost higher ed should be maintained

An editorial from The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — It should have come as no surprise that enrollment in West Virginia’s four-year public colleges and universities is down. Some of the decline is good news – but that does not help higher education administrators who count on tuition revenue to maintain quality programs.

Compared to last year, enrollment in four-year colleges and universities is down by 1.6 percent, it was reported this week. In fact, declines at many institutions have been steady during the past four years.

Part of the reason for that is a better economy, of course. Four years ago, the state’s unemployment rate was 8.5 percent, with 68,284 people who wanted to work unable to find jobs. At last count, the rate had dropped to 6.6 percent, with 52,800 people looking for work.

During the depths of the recession, some West Virginians chose to attend college because their job prospects were weak. That bolstered enrollment.

As local residents are well aware, gas and oil drilling and processing has provided some new jobs, with more on the horizon.

From that perspective, lower college enrollment is not a bad thing.

Again, however, it reduces resources available to colleges and universities. That makes their officials eager to find new students.

Most public colleges and universities in our state are excellent bargains. Tuition and fees are low compared to both public institutions in surrounding states and private colleges.

It will be tempting for some higher education officials to simply increase tuition to keep revenue streams stable. Some adjustments may be absolutely necessary.

But tuition and fee increases should be avoided or at least held to a minimum.

Affordability is among the biggest advantages West Virginia colleges and universities have in attracting students. Both as a selling point and out of a sense of responsibility to Mountain State families, it should be retained.

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