West Virginia considers shutting down public colleges
- WV News reports that West Virginia may face a future with fewer colleges in order to combat declining enrollment and rising costs. Republican State Sen. Ed Gaunch said the problem requires the state to subsidize fewer public institutions, and to focus resources on campuses that can serve the greatest need for the largest number of people.
- Total enrollment for West Virginia's public institutions dropped by more than 5,700 students between 2012 and 2017, and while the decline has slowed in recent years thanks to dual-enrollment programs with secondary districts, Gaunch said that West Virginia University could expand to accommodate the state's higher education needs.
- West Virginia lawmakers have established a bipartisan commission to study the effectiveness of each of the state's 18 public campuses, but Gaunch said that closing campuses, a process which could take three to four years, is not an easy prospect.
It is always easy for lawmakers to suggest that fewer institutions with more capacity will serve students better and use resources more efficiently. But examples in Georgia and Vermont suggest that this principle does not always work in practical application.
A merger proposal for Vermont's Salem State University and the Montserrat College of Art fell apart because a cost analysis revealed it would be more expensive to modernize a consolidated institution then it would be to bring two smaller institutions' technology, salaries and operating costs up to standard more slowly. In Georgia, the merger of Albany State University and Darton State College yielded some questionable reporting on year-to-year enrollment data.
In the end, systems may be inclined to think that fewer institutions are better for taxpayers. But they do not always make for the smoothest operations in serving diverse student populations and determining academic programs that fit a state's labor needs, along with the nuts and bolts of shutting down or changing the large-scale business operations that campuses present to communities.