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WVSU president says college is ‘strong’ despite budget cuts

By Samuel Speciale

The Charleston Gazette-Mail

INSTITUTE, W.Va. — After a speech where he outlined a promising future for West Virginia State University, bolstered by enrollment growth and increased fundraising, WVSU President Brian Hemphill acknowledged continued higher education budget cuts have him concerned.

West Virginia State University President Brian Hemphill on Thursday discussed student, faculty and staff achievements, the university’s reaffirmation of accreditation and the offering of new programs on campus during his fourth state of the university address. While Hemphill expressed concern with continued budget cuts to the state’s two- and four-year colleges, he said West Virginia State has a bright future thanks to enrollment growth and increased fundraising. SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail photos
West Virginia State University President Brian Hemphill on Thursday discussed student, faculty and staff achievements, the university’s reaffirmation of accreditation and the offering of new programs on campus during his fourth state of the university address. While Hemphill expressed concern with continued budget cuts to the state’s two- and four-year colleges, he said West Virginia State has a bright future thanks to enrollment growth and increased fundraising.
SAM OWENS | Gazette-Mail photos

“The state is going through a difficult time right now,” Hemphill said Thursday after his fourth state of the university address, in which he discussed student, faculty and staff achievements, the university’s reaffirmation of accreditation and the offering of new programs on campus.

On Monday, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced across-the-board 4 percent budget cuts for most state government agencies. While funding for public schools only received a smaller 1 percent decrease, the state’s higher education and community college systems will be subject to the full 4 percent cut. This is the fourth consecutive year the state has reduced spending on those colleges.

While it remains to be seen how West Virginia State University’s budget will be affected — a Tomblin spokesman told the Gazette-Mail on Tuesday it will be up to the state Higher Education Policy Commission to determine what gets cut — Hemphill said the college is “strong” and will move forward.

“All presidents are worried about the cuts,” he said. “But State will follow its budget recommendations.”

The guidelines Hemphill touted — he also mentioned them in his speech — were put forth in 2013 and call for improved efficiency, reductions in spending and a more sustainable campus.

“Without question, the university has embraced innovative approaches to generating revenue and reducing operating expenditures,” Hemphill said in his speech. “Despite continued budget cuts from the state of West Virginia, together, we are securing the financial future of West Virginia State University.”

Barring any changes to its appropriation, the university will receive $10.3 million from the state this year, which is about the same it received last year. Total expenses for last fiscal year left the university with a remaining balance of $2.6 million.

While the school is operating in the black, it’s the success of fundraising campaigns that Hemphill noted Thursday.

He said recent campaigns have resonated with alumni and donors who are “getting engaged.” He said the university has received $4.2 million from more than 1,100 donors this year and that an $18 million fundraising goal launched after his hiring in 2012 has already secured $14.4 million in donations and pledges.

Hemphill revealed Thursday the university has received a “significant commitment” that will all but ensure the fundraising goal is met well before its 2017 end date.

While Hemphill focused on the university’s strengths during his speech, he told the Gazette-Mail improvements still can be made, and specifically mentioned the school’s student retention rate. He also indicated he still wants to make good on his pledge to have 4,000 students enrolled by 2020. The university now has 3,166 students.

“This is a university that has served West Virginia for 125 years,” he said. While homecoming this year marks the school’s 124th anniversary, officials are looking ahead to next year’s landmark.

“And we will continue to be an institution that will serve our state for many more years to come.”

Hemphill, the university’s 10th president, joined the college in 2012. Since then, he has overseen enrollment growth, expansion of academic programs and construction of several new buildings on campus.

He is in the second year of a five-year contract that will pay him a state-funded salary of $287,310 until 2019 and is currently in the midst of a state-mandated yearly performance evaluation with the university’s Board of Governors.

A presidential review committee will meet later this month to discuss faculty, staff and student comments on Hemphill’s leadership, the quality of communication from his office and his progress with advancing the school over the last year.

Based on those comments, the committee will make a recommendation to the full board at its Oct. 29 meeting.

Reach Samuel Speciale at [email protected], 304-348-7939 or follow @samueljspeciale on Twitter.

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