Calling on his unique perspective from more than 40 years as a university president, Gordon Gee says the debate about the value of higher education is over.
“I am happy to end that debate today,” Gee said during his annual State of the University address. “The answer to the question of whether college is worth it is an emphatic ‘yes.’ Let me be clear: It is more than worth it.”
Gee spoke to an audience of West Virginia University students, faculty and staff gathered virtually and in person on Monday, Oct. 3, acknowledging while the cost to attend WVU is still lower than that of many peer institutions — on average by 15% — cost is an ongoing concern for students and aid will be an ongoing priority for the WVU Foundation.
He emphasized that 41% of WVU’s May 2022 graduates earning baccalaureate degrees graduated with zero debt.
Long term, according to the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, those with bachelor’s degrees are half as likely to be unemployed than those without higher education. They also earn an additional $1.2 million on average over their lifetimes.
Benefits awaiting students like Azeem Khan, a sophomore in political science from Charleston who is co-chair of the Mountaineer Fentanyl Education Task Force; Amanda Valentine, a student veteran from Buffalo pursuing a master’s degree in business administration and one of only 18 women chosen for the 2022 Focus Forward Fellowship, a prestigious year-long mentoring program designed to support women with military connections; or Cassandra Stewart, a recipient of the Hazel Ruby McQuain Graduate Scholarship who plans to serve as a sensory needs consultant and one day open her own business to provide clothing and custom alterations that are sensory-friendly.
Across the WVU System, programs are creating more accessibility, improving affordability and graduating more students, Gee noted, including through WVU Tech’s Upward Bound program and a flexible degree program at Potomac State College.
“Educating our people is our central purpose, and it has never been more critical. An educated citizenry will lift us above our current challenges,” Gee said.
An R1 research university, WVU scholars are also helping to launch West Virginia on a new economic trajectory through advancements in energy, education, health care and a variety of other areas such as the West Virginia Dialect Project where faculty members are helping students understand the beauty of the Appalachian language, breaking down the stigmas associated with it and nurturing respect for the culture.
“For more than 150 years we have been the land-grant, flagship university of West Virginia and we should be proud – very proud – of that,” Gee said.
Examples of successes include the STEAM TAC program expanding its reach during its second year to help teachers grow their expertise in delivering engaging science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics learning experiences and the “visiting neighbor” program where senior citizens in sample communities receive training to visit elderly neighbors, provide companionship, educate them on healthy lifestyle choices, and connect them to helpful resources through a collaboration between Extension, health care professionals, faculty from the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences and the Schools of Medicine and Nursing.
“We must never question whether we are making a difference. I can say without a doubt that there is no other university that is more committed and deeply rooted in its mission to help the students and the people of its state,” Gee said.
The “visiting neighbor” program was presented during WVU’s first Academic Innovation Summit, part of the University’s overarching academic transformation plan. It’s one of many efforts to transform the campus experience, including a modernization plan in the works along with additional resources to address mental health, diversity and safety — each underscored with purpose.
Gee introduced the concept of adding purpose to WVU’s existing pillars of education, health care and prosperity during his 2021 State of the University remarks. Less than a year later, the campus hosted its inaugural Week of Purpose.
“We believe education is not just about pursuing a major. It is about pursuing the path you want to travel for a lifetime. It is about knowing who you are and using your strengths to their fullest potential,” Gee said.
“I am certain that with shared effort, we will go forward with purpose, with pride and with the timeless rallying cry of all Mountaineers: ‘Let’s go.’”
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