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WVSU official: Cuts to state land-grant funding could cost school $2.9M


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia State University could be on the verge of losing millions of federal dollars if state lawmakers cut its land-grant funding even marginally.

If the Legislature should cut WVSU’s land-grant funding by just 5 percent, or roughly $77,000, the school stands to lose $2.9 million in federal dollars, according to Orlando McMeans, the school’s vice president for research and public service.

“It really could happen,” McMeans said. “We’re at a time right now where, this is going to be the first time since we’ve been receiving those dollars that we have to send money back to Washington, D.C.”

Designated a land-grant institution with the second Morrill Act in 1890, WVSU receives federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In order to receive those funds, Congress mandated that the state match the funds dollar for dollar.

The school is set to receive about $2.95 million this year from the USDA. This money supports the school’s community and economic development, extension programs and some research programs.

When a land-grant school’s state doesn’t meet the one-to-one match, the school can request the Agriculture Secretary issue a waiver. The Secretary can waive the rule, so long as the school receives at least a 50 percent match.

If the state’s matching funds drop below 50 percent? The Agriculture Secretary has no choice but to withdraw all of the federal land-grant funding, unless Congress would come together to change the rules.

If that federal land-grant money goes away, McMeans said the school wouldn’t try to supplement the programs’ funding and they would disappear.

The state isn’t even close to meeting its match. WVSU received only $1.55 million in matching funds, or 52.7 percent, of what the state’s obligation. But this isn’t anything new. For at least 11 years the school has had to request a similar waiver.

WVSU, one of the country’s historically black colleges and universities, is one of two land-grant universities in the state, the other being West Virginia University. Schools whose states don’t meet the funding match are often HBCUs.

About two-thirds of land-grant HBCUs were not receiving 100 percent of the one-to-one matching funds in 2013, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.

McMeans worries that President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Agriculture, who only Friday had his confirmation hearing, might not be as lenient to give a waiver. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue told a Senate committee that he had no input on Trump’s proposed budget, which reduced the USDA’s discretionary spending by 21 percent, according to Politico.

Since Perdue’s nomination, he has not publicly detailed his view on land-grant colleges.

“One of the unique things about the flagship universities like WVU, The Ohio State University or Virginia Tech, those institutions more than adequately match their federal funds with state dollars,” McMeans said. “They’re appropriated at least a minimum of one-to-one. In many instances, it’s two, three, maybe four times that amount.”

McMeans said that, in previous years, the school was asked to submit a few documents to support their reasoning for the state not meeting the one-to-one match. This year, McMeans said the USDA hasn’t been as forgiving. The federal agency has requested documents from the school, the governor’s office and the Higher Education Policy Commission, among other state offices.

Previously, Republican leaders unveiled a budget plan light on details which would cut higher education. On Saturday, House Finance members got a glimpse at what may be the House’s budget plan for next year. That plan includes cutting higher education by $16.6 million, which largely rests on WVU and Marshall University.

It is unclear if the lawmakers want to cut WVSU’s land-grant matching fund, which is a separate line item from the rest of the school’s state appropriation.

“We’re in those choppy waters now that, if there’s any kind of cut, it probably would push us below the 50 percent,” McMeans said. “The money we’re unable to draw down, it will be redistributed to the other schools who met their match and beyond.”

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