Difficult but necessary decisions have put West Virginia University in a position to invest and innovate, thus setting the University on a course to become the modern land-grant university of the future.
“No matter the major, every student who chooses West Virginia University will be afforded a well-rounded education that provides excellent training in their field, as well as opportunity to learn through student life experiences that prepare them for this ever-changing world,” President Gordon Gee said during State of the University remarks at the Erickson Alumni Center on Monday (Oct. 23).
The University worked to reduce an estimated $45 million structural budget by $21 million for fiscal year 2024, and the recent Academic Program Portfolio Review process will result in approximately $17.3 million in savings after phased retirements and teach-out plans run their course, according to Gee. Additional savings to help close the remaining gap are anticipated through previously announced college mergers and other measures.
“We may not agree with some of the decisions that were made, but collectively, I know and trust that we will find a way to move forward together,” Gee said.
Gee laid out his vision for the path ahead, one where WVU is the model modern land-grant university, respecting its 19th century roots while evolving to meet vastly different 21st century needs, unafraid to make changes to ensure its relevance, value and importance.
“We will serve as the great connector — building partnerships that drive industry, education and public sector growth,” Gee said. “And we will create the great public square our society so desperately needs, providing a safe and nurturing place for civil discourse and debate for all ideas.”
To be the modern land-grant, WVU will focus on four priorities within the pillars of education, health, prosperity and purpose through the lens of the University’s first principles of students first, land-grant mission and differentiation.
Gee explained the University will expand access to education by improving recruitment and retention and increasing fundraising efforts. In 2022, the University’s freshmen retention rate rose to 81.8% and the retention rate for first-generation students increased by 5.5%.
Graduation rates have also continued to improve, demonstrating a 14% increase in four-year graduation rates over the last eight years, which means students are graduating sooner and entering the job market earlier, carrying less debt. About 45% of May 2023 graduates earning bachelor’s degrees across the WVU System completed their education with zero debt. Among the same group, the average federal student loan debt was about $20,000 — well below the national average of more than $30,000.
“I am pleased to share that we have friends of the University who are investing in student success initiatives, including student scholarships,” Gee said. “We are working with the WVU Foundation to finalize those details and reduce the debt our students carry.”
To increase enrollment, Gee said WVU will continue to recruit first-time freshmen in primary markets, as well as new territories. The University will also work to add more online degree options, reach adult learners such as veterans, improve the transfer pipeline and add a path for those seeking microcredentials.
“A team is developing a plan to offer microcredentials that will tailor relevant academic content to specific market needs,” Gee said. “This will provide anyone interested in learning the opportunity to gain knowledge that will improve their job performance, add skills to their portfolio and allow them to engage with the University to continue their education.”
The University will also focus on existing academic strength in areas such as energy, forensics, neuroscience, astrophysics, Extension, the outdoor economy and fighting the opioid epidemic, and it will build on potential growth opportunities in robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, sustainability, biometrics, cancer research, and Appalachian culture and the arts.
“We will create the programs our students want, and our communities need,” Gee said, adding his administration will work quickly, including securing funding for seed grants to launch new ideas from faculty and staff.
The University will share ways in the coming months for faculty, staff, students, alumni and industry to provide input on these initiatives.
Advancing the WVU R1 mission to deliver solutions to real-world problems is the second priority Gee addressed. The third priority involves growing the Health Sciences Center to improve health care. For example, the WVU School of Nursing and Potomac State College created an LPN to BSN nursing program to allow currently employed nurses to become RNs with bachelor’s degrees in nursing while continuing to work while enrolled. This will be the only program of its kind in the state.
Gee also talked about the University’s goal to place the WVU Cancer Institute in the top 2% of cancer centers nationwide and another effort to help fill critical needs for certain medical professions and occupations with WVU graduates.
“We are currently developing a partnership with WVU Medicine to create unique academic pathways to a variety of medical fields that would guarantee job placement in one of our 24 system hospitals around the state,” Gee said.
The fourth priority is to remain the economic engine of the state by partnering with industry. Gee noted West Virginia has just been chosen as one of seven regional hydrogen hubs to receive nearly $1 billion in federal funding, “thanks to the work of the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen team that was driven by members from our University.”
Gee also mentioned APLU’s recent designation of WVU as an “Innovation and Economic Prosperity University,” one of just more than 80 across the country, as evidence of the University’s commitment to supporting community development.
By working together and focusing on the pillars and priorities Gee said WVU can lead in new ways as the modern land-grant university that serves its students and society, and it can end the debate of whether a college education has value.
“That is the vision for West Virginia University. We have always been — and always will be — a strong, vibrant university. What we are building today is a university that remains strong but is increasingly relevant to the needs of today’s students and our global society.”
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