Presidential Perspective: The Future of West Virginia Education

November 16, 2016

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Presidential Perspective: The Future of West Virginia Education

By Samantha Cart

Education plays a role in every element of daily life. It is important for small business owners and entrepreneurs, scientists and doctors, farmers and teachers. It impacts economy, livelihood and progress.

According to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, West Virginia is home to 42 colleges and universities. At the helm of these institutions, college and university presidents hold great responsibility. Not only do they manage the many components of a higher education organization, including finances, curriculum, enrollment and policy—sometimes on multiple campuses—but they are also responsible for knowing what is happening around the state, particularly with the economy and employment landscape, so they know how to move education forward. They are also tasked with making sure West Virginia has a solid work force, all while managing increasing budget cuts to education and the continued loss of graduates to other states.

For these reasons, West Virginia Executive reached out to each of the Mountain State’s higher education presidents to acquire their unique perspective on the challenges facing our state, where we are heading, how education needs to evolve to prepare the work force of tomorrow and what role education will play in helping move the Mountain State forward.

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Editor’s Notes:

In preparation for this special Q&A with West Virginia’s higher education presidents, West Virginia Executive reached out to all the colleges and universities located within the Mountain State. Those not represented in this Q&A elected not to participate.

Due to the overwhelming participation of West Virginia’s college and university presidents, this is a continuation of the Q&As featured in the Fall 2016 issue of WVE.


Dr. Daniel Anderson – Appalachian Bible College
Dr. Pamela Balch – West Virginia Wesleyan College
Dr. Peter Barr – Glenville State College
Dr. James “Tim” Barry – Alderson Broaddus University
Dr. Eunice Bellinger – BridgeValley Community & Technical College
Dr. Maria Bennett Rose – Fairmont State University
Dr. Peter Checkovich – Blue Ridge Community and Technical College
Dr. E. Gordon Gee – West Virginia University
Dr. Jerome Gilbert – Marshall University
Dr. Stephen Greiner – West Liberty University
Dr. Robert Gunter – Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College
Dr. Mary Hendrix – Shepherd University
Dr. Anthony Jenkins – West Virginia State University
Dr. Marsha Krotseng – Bluefield State College
Dr. Fletcher Lamkin – West Virginia University at Parkersburg
Carolyn Long – West Virginia University Institute of Technology
Dr. Johnny Moore – Pierpont Community & Technical College
Dr. Jennifer Orlikoff – Potomac State College of West Virginia University
Dr. Vicki Riley – West Virginia Northern Community College
Dr. Tamara Nichols Rodenberg – Bethany College
Dr. Harold Shank – Ohio Valley University
Dr. Chuck Terrell – Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College
Dr. L. Marshall Washington – New River Community and Technical College
Dr. Edwin Welch – University of Charleston
Chris Wood – Davis & Elkins College

 

Dr. Daniel Anderson, President
Appalachian Bible College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

There is no doubt that the economic environment of our state is impacting our efforts to enroll students from West Virginia. We have had to expand our scholarship assistance to our West Virginia students to supplement their financial limitations. The recent floods in our area have further devastated families, thus limiting their resources for college. Our admissions representatives have observed a spirit of despair among graduating seniors who feel that college is essentially out of reach, largely due to the economic challenges. Furthermore, the opportunity to be effectively employed in West Virginia after completing college is often in question. Not only has the economy affected new students, it has also led to the disruption of the continued college programs of our West Virginia students. Overall, our West Virginia student population has declined over the past five years.

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

The current outlook for the coal industry in our state is very concerning. While our academic programs do not directly deal with preparing graduates for that industry, the related interests we have are for the ministry opportunities of our state. Declining communities often mean declining ministries, which result in fewer occupational opportunities for our graduates to have jobs in ministry-related fields in our state. West Virginia faces the daunting challenge of identifying new job sources if we are to combat the declining job market of our current industries. New areas of job opportunity must be created if the state is to advance and provide hope for our young people. Our location places us within the radius of major population and transportation sources. Effort must be given to capturing these benefits and converting them into sustainable employment.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

The prerequisite to expanded industry and economic growth is a well-educated population with a strong work ethic. Our communities must be strong with family values and community commitment that will produce strong schools for our children. Education must be based upon principles of learning that teach truth and right behavior in order to assure a populace that protects life and well-being. Disciplined instruction fostered in the realm of love and care will help to build a strong economic fabric for families. This is where our education and mission at Appalachian Bible College especially contributes to the benefit and advancement for our state. Good citizens make strong communities, which in turn results in strong economies.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

We must again give our students hope in the midst of a world of despair. Ultimate and lasting hope is founded upon having our internal need fulfilled with spiritual strength and hope. Our region has a rich heritage of spiritual fabric. We must never diminish that hope, which ultimately provides the ability to succeed in life.

 

Dr. Pamela Balch, President
West Virginia Wesleyan College

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

We must strive to provide an educational experience that prepares students for success after graduation. That does not necessarily mean training students for a particular job. Rather, we must equip students with skills that ensure that they write and communicate effectively, think critically, manage projects and solve problems. We have to dramatically increase the educational work force for West Virginia in order to attract small businesses and entrepreneurs. In essence, West Virginia has to re-invent itself, and higher education has to take the lead in this transformation.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

This topic will require leaders across the state to sit down and have meaningful and constant dialogue about West Virginia’s economic future. All of us know that technology will play a pivotal role in West Virginia’s revitalization. Our government leaders must ensure that we invest in dramatically increasing our broadband capabilities. If we do not invest in technology, we have no chance of future success.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

This is a topic that is likely to become heavily discussed in the immediate future. Our school of business is looking at ways to capture and foster the enthusiasm of students who wish to pursue this dream. We are already taking steps to develop strong partnerships with our local Upshur County Development Authority. We are also inviting alumni who are enjoying success as entrepreneurs to become actively engaged with students and faculty.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Higher education is taking several steps to identify students who enroll in colleges with risk factors. We were awarded a $10 million U.S. Department of Education Title III grant to improve our retention and graduation rates. We work closely with first-generation students to help them adjust both academically and socially and carefully review transcripts and standardized test scores when determining class schedules for entering freshman. We also have triggers in place that alert our Center for Academic Success when students are performing below expectation or when they are having transition issues. Retention is the responsibility of everyone who works here.

Our friends in secondary education also play an important role, as do parents in this endeavor. Students who pursue challenging coursework in high school are far more likely to persist. Parents who place an emphasis on educational success are the most influential factor. Also, we have to find ways to help students when financial barriers occur. Improving retention and graduation rates will require a comprehensive team effort approach. As far as retaining graduates in West Virginia, our government and business leaders must work together to provide an environment that allows opportunities for employment.

 

Dr. Peter Barr, President
Glenville State College

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

I cannot presume to imagine the best industries to bring about economic prosperity and social wellbeing for West Virginia’s citizens. My track record is too flawed having heretofore failed to prophesy Apple, Google and Uber.

I believe the entrepreneurial imaginings for West Virginia’s possibilities are the prerogatives of a next-generation educated work force, an energetic and inventive work force fashioned in higher education. Forestry will surely play a role in the state’s future, and Glenville State’s accredited forestry program already prepares the educated foresters of the future.

If I cannot presume to predict what opportunities might be crafted ahead, I know with certainty that a work force composed of individuals with college degrees is a necessary condition. Increased public and private funding is the critical factor in forging the educated work force that will attract and cultivate tomorrow’s employment opportunities.

 

Dr. James “Tim” Barry, President
Alderson Broaddus University

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

I believe that West Virginia’s primary challenge is one of the spirit. West Virginia seems to be in a state of depression and loss of direction as it experiences so many changes with the local and national economy.

An additional challenge seems to be a lack of a concerted vision and direction as to how to proceed. As many would concede, the state of West Virginia has gone through an industrial revolution in regard to the coal industry as well as oil and gas. This industrial revolution encounters education at this crossroads. This confluence of want and need poses the question as to how education can benefit and even redirect a renewed chapter in the state’s development. Whether this is in regard to natural resources or other possibilities, education should play a vital role as it aligns itself with the economy.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Education should be a leader in a collective, state-wide effort in determining the economic direction it should take. Obviously, West Virginia should move into diversifying its economy. Education should be a leader calibrating the needs of the economy and the ability of education to meet those critical needs.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

Information technology, entrepreneurship and health care—particularly from a rural delivery perspective.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

One of West Virginia’s greatest strengths is its teachers at all levels. Our teachers are among the best and are highly dedicated to their profession. The educational community and the corporate community need to overcome the silo mentality that appears to exist and engage in constructive dialogue and strategic thought in regard to today’s economy with intentional action in mind. The dots need to be understood and connected for the state of West Virginia to ultimately succeed in a revised and renewed economic development. The catalyst for change must be those who teach the future work force of West Virginia.

 

Dr. Eunice Bellinger, President
BridgeValley Community & Technical College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

West Virginia is currently facing a series of challenges, many of which are a result of the economic base of the state being severely reduced. However, with challenges, there are opportunities. Education can act as a great partner in economic change and revitalization. Accordingly, we too must look outside the box in program development to respond to our state’s needs.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Our economic development organizations have identified other sectors beyond coal, such as natural gas, that can grow and find a place in our state. Other potential growth sectors, such as tourism and the arts, can also be economic drivers and contribute to the revitalization of the economy. The impact education can have is that we can identify the programs that will complement the identified economic opportunities.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

Because of the rapidity of changes in technologies, it is difficult to project what will be the technologies of the future. Certainly the energy industry will remain vital, as will the growth of manufacturing. Whatever we invest in, we must be flexible in our infrastructure so we can continue to meet the economic needs of the state.

 

Dr. Maria Bennett Rose, President
Fairmont State University

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

Regional baccalaureate institutions, like many of West Virginia’s institutions, primarily serve populations in contiguous counties and the surrounding region. When these regions are hurting economically, it impacts students’ and their parents’ confidence in being able to afford higher education. As business and industry contract, it also negatively affects confidence of post-graduation employment within the region. One of the challenges the state must address is the level to which it sees higher education as an investment in the state’s future and to what extent it will invest in that future. Public education has become increasingly more expensive for West Virginia’s students due to disinvestment by the state. This trend can only exist until such a point that the ability to continue to provide quality education—teaching, learning and adequate facilities—is negatively affected.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Education, particularly at the baccalaureate level, not only prepares students for a life of work but also for a life of meaning. Education for the sole purpose of getting a job is an opportunity missed. Baccalaureate institutions have a long tradition of creating the next generation of business and community leaders, entrepreneurs and change makers. Such educational endeavors must continue to be in the forefront of any educational strategy that is part of a long-term economic recovery plan.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

Entrepreneurial education has exponentially grown in popularity and as an academic discipline since the 1980s. However, we must keep in mind that many of the greatest entrepreneurs of the 20th century did not possess a credential in entrepreneurial studies. They merged knowledge of business practices with that of an understanding of society with foresight to provide the goods and services demanded by the population growth and technological advancements to create successful entrepreneurial ventures. Good solid business education coupled with strong liberal arts—social science, behavioral studies and economics—can provide the needed skills and knowledge to afford one to become a successful entrepreneur if they possess the personal characteristics and the fortitude to make it happen. So rather than education evolving, perhaps we need to do a better job of helping students understand what is possible with a strong liberal arts approach when merged with professional studies like business.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

Higher education institutions, like hospitals, are human organizations. Our outputs and outcomes are the direct result of faculty and staff who are highly committed to their professions and to their students. Teaching and student development are the core mission of each individual within the institution. However, West Virginia still lags behind our peers and neighboring states in average faculty and staff pay structures. We have lost talented professors and staff to other systems due to the disinvestment that has occurred over the last decade. There have been no substantial raises for any higher education personnel for quite some time, yet these individuals who remain continue to do what they are passionate about: teaching and impacting students’ personal growth. If this isn’t a strength the state should be able to leverage to partner in economic recovery, then there are not any.

 

Dr. Peter Checkovich, President
Blue Ridge Community and Technical College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

West Virginia’s challenges are indeed complex. For example, with the decline of the coal industry and associated revenue, the aging of our population and the average educational level, there are certainly issues that need to be addressed. They are complex issues, but they are not insoluble. Higher education and in particular the community college system are well positioned to provide education and training to evolve our work force and move our state in a positive direction. In the Eastern Panhandle we have seen a great interest from business and industry in securing and retaining a high-quality work force. It is our business to respond to that need so that all might benefit.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Each region of the state has different circumstances and different needs. Our community college system is well situated in each of the regions and is responsible for addressing the needs of the industries and individuals in those regions. To mention a few in the Eastern Panhandle, we have responded to Hollywood Casinos, Macy’s, Essroc, Ecolab and, most recently, Procter & Gamble. At Blue Ridge, we have been fortunate to work with these industries and many others that provide jobs for thousands of individuals.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

The link between education and career is often overlooked and not emphasized enough in our schools. I am not the expert with the millennial generation, but education must have relevance and be seen as important to the student. If not, the interest in pursuing education can be quickly lost. The link between education and a meaningful and productive career must be made early and often.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

A primary role of our community college system is to educate and re-educate those who are seeking meaningful careers. It is a strong suit in higher education that can and should respond to newly graduated high school students, adults seeking a new or different career and individuals who are seeking quality education at a very reasonable and affordable cost. The community colleges are well distributed throughout the state, and most individuals are within a half hour driving time of one. Also, many course can be taken online, and with the help of technology we can reach geographically isolated students.

 

Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President
West Virginia University

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

Although manufacturing is still important to West Virginia, it is clear the jobs that have been lost in recent decades are not coming back. Across the state, communities are left to cope amid the staggering decline of industries that supported generations of families. At West Virginia University, we believe collaboration will help our state transition to a 21st century economy.

For example, we are working with residents of Harpers Ferry and Charleston’s West Side to revitalize those communities. We are pairing university resources with front-line intelligence from residents to create solutions that honor the town’s culture and history, capitalize on economic trends and recognize the importance of meaningful work. Our goal is to make them models of resiliency for communities across our state—and across the nation.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

We have entered an era in which applying our brains for ideas and innovations overrides the backbreaking, blue-collar work of yesteryear. Ingenuity today is what pays the bills and puts food on the table.

Our university is perfectly positioned to act as an economic engine for West Virginia by leveraging our fundamental research capabilities in a new way and by building stronger relationships with industry and government. Last year, we launched the WVU Innovation Corporation, a new tool to help us to work more closely with industry and government agencies on research.

We also have been in discussions with McKinsey Consulting through our Center for Big Ideas on ways to spark an immediate reversal in West Virginia’s economy. We are making West Virginia a living and learning laboratory for successful partnerships among all sectors—public, private, education and government.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

Today’s careers, almost across the board, demand vision, innovation and entrepreneurial thinking.

At West Virginia University, we are nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit through programs such as our high school and college business plan competitions, which inspire young innovators, and our Launch Lab, a resource center for building businesses located on our Morgantown and Beckley campuses.

Working with our public school partners to improve STEM education is another major priority. Through 4-H and other extension programs, we work with public school educators to get kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math. Through our Health Sciences and Technology Academy, we have a strong track record for shepherding minority and underrepresented students into health care careers. As part of the UTeach program, we are helping to put high-performing STEM graduates in our nation’s classrooms. As we bolster STEM, however, we are resisting the temptation to gut education in the arts and humanities. The arts make our lives richer, more compassionate and more fulfilled.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

Our greatest strength, without a doubt, is the quality of our people. I spend time with students every day, and they impress me with the solid credentials and solid values they bring to the table. They have the independent spirit and fundamental moral fiber that characterizes West Virginia. They thrive on doing their own research, making their own discoveries, creating their own business opportunities and finding their own solutions to society’s problems. We have been exporting talented people like this for generations. Now it is time for all of us in West Virginia to work together and create the jobs and industries that will keep our talent here.

 

Dr. Jerome Gilbert, President
Marshall University

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

We need manufacturing and high-tech and health services industries to provide job opportunities for future workers. Investment in higher education—four-year universities and community colleges—is a great way to prepare for the next generation. A highly educated work force will be expected and required by new and existing industries wanting to locate in our state. As stated in the book “The Industries of the Future” by Alec Ross, we should be considering jobs related to computerized manufacturing, information technology and security and health care and personalized medicine.

I would also argue for innovative energy research so that we can utilize clean coal technology and modularized nuclear reactors. As Ross argues, capital investment will be needed in academic research so that innovative breakthroughs in key industries can be realized and then developed into companies to produce products desired by society.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

Higher education in West Virginia needs to focus on developing a sense of entrepreneurship in our students by experiential learning experiences and opportunities. At Marshall, we are working to produce graduates who are creative and innovative in their approaches to solving problems in the workplace. Coupled with in-class instructions, we are looking at developing additional co-curricular opportunities to broaden and strengthen the educational experience. We want to assist the student in maturing intellectually, socially, professionally and ethically. Opportunities such as study abroad, internships, cooperative education, service learning and meaningful interactions in the community help expand and enrich the learning environment.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Student debt continues to be a problem that contributes to student anxiety, which can lead to an unsuccessful outcome. One idea to help address student debt is to create a state jobs corps program that could provide a loan to a student for college expenses, to be forgiven by the state upon completion of a certain number of years of in-state employment in a particular job. These jobs could be identified by industry and approved by the state and/or could be public works jobs created or identified by the state. This approach would serve to keep college graduates in the state and strengthen areas of the economy important to the state of West Virginia.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

The universities of the state—if properly funded and supported—can be economic drivers to attract industries and create jobs.

Higher education assists students by giving them skills and a vision for the future. If we can form partnerships with West Virginia businesses and industries to show our students there are increasing opportunities for employment in West Virginia, we will be able to retain more students after graduation. We need a comprehensive state vision for convincing ourselves and those outside the state that it will be possible to invigorate our economy and create more jobs.

Another strength that can be utilized is the strong work ethic exhibited by the people of West Virginia and the desire to create hope for the future. I firmly believe that West Virginians want to have quality jobs so that they can live and work in their home state. Our state’s citizens are willing to work hard, but there are insufficient jobs. About half of Marshall graduates end up with employment out of state.

I think most people want to believe that things can get better but are discouraged and cannot envision a way to turn things around.

Dr. Stephen Greiner, President
West Liberty University

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

STEM-related industries will be the big players for our next generation of workers and consumers.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

West Liberty University has a successful Center for Entrepreneurship Center that offers a dynamic entrepreneurship curriculum open to students from any academic discipline through the Gary E. West College of Business. Students may choose to pursue a major or minor in entrepreneurship studies or choose from many course options in entrepreneurship to complete an area of study. Beyond this, the Center for Entrepreneurship works with local business leaders to encourage and support small business growth and development throughout the region. Pitch contests, business plan development and professional advice is available to entrepreneurs and business start-ups who contact the Center for Entrepreneurship. New businesses have resulted with support from our Entrepreneur Center, including pitch contest winners Spatial Decision Support System, begun by Vishesh Maskey; Mason Dixon BBQ Co., founded by WLU alumnus Patrick Fisher; Happy Goat Yoga, owned by WLU alumna Lindsay Schooler; Mmm … Popcorn, owned by Wheeling resident Dave McFarland, and Capes and Tiaras Fantasy Birthday Parties, owned by Tricia Goode and Jody Mischik. We must continue to be an active partner in the economic development of our region.

 

Dr. Robert Gunter, President
Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Community colleges should assume the role of change agent within their geographic service area. The coal fields of Southern West Virginia have been devastated by federal regulations. Thousands of unemployed miners and related industry employees are seeking new career pathways that will provide them a decent wage and longevity of employment. New industry is continuously looking for growth opportunities and regions to relocate to service our county. Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College strives to provide educational and training opportunities in high demand and promising demand categories in both short-term certificates and longer-term associate degrees that will provide greater opportunities for the citizens of our region. Southern is working hand-in-hand with local, regional, state and national economic development groups, chambers of commerce, non-profits and other educational institutions to provide a trained work force for technical careers and a highly educated citizenry for attracting business and industry to our region. We will be continually seeking strong partnerships and opportunity grants for developing sustainable programs of study for entrepreneurial expansion.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

Southern West Virginia should be investing in a wide variety of demand industries, such as tourism/hospitality. Located in the center of the Hatfield & McCoy Trail System, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College has a unique opportunity to provide technical training in power sports, power sport safety, entrepreneurship, hotel management and culinary arts.

Our allied health and nursing programs are some of the best in the state, but we need to expand opportunities in existing programs and offer new areas of study such as occupational therapy assistant, dental assisting/dental hygiene and health and wellness. Commercial truck driving is a program that provides short-term training with potentially high wages. Southern West Virginia is in the heart of the hard wood timber region. Why then are we shipping most of the cut logs out of state for processing? We should be attracting wood-based companies to our region to keep the processing of lumber skills and associated salaries within our region. At one time, Southern West Virginia had a booming agricultural base. It’s now time to partner with high school agri-business programs and other organizations like Refresh Appalachia, the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority, Wyoming County Economic Development Authority, West Virginia University Extension Service and Williamson Health and Wellness Center to offer certificate and associate degree programs in agricultural operations such as agriculture mechanics, plant propagation, animal husbandry, marketing and logistics to name just a few.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

As mentioned above, agriculture and forestry have a rich history in Southern West Virginia. Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College is currently partnering with area high schools, various state agencies and nonprofits and the West Virginia Department of Agriculture to develop programs of study in agriculture. These programs will reinvest our knowledge in a sustainable economic approach to growing food and food products. Sustainable farming and marketing is a rapidly growing sector of the U.S. economy and especially the southern West Virginia economy. Small farms, with the use of high tunnels, are providing an economic opportunity for growth of agriculture in the areas to support demand for fresh foods.

Agriculture on post-mine sites and co-op farms are focal points of many new initiatives to retrain miners and veterans in efforts to revive and shape local economies in Southern West Virginia. While some existing initiatives provide some of the necessary start-up training and support, advanced skills and formal educational opportunities were identified as the missing component in the area to take these projects to the next level for economic development in our region.

Southern’s new program will feature a variety of skill sets in both a credit and non-credit environment, a certificate degree and an Associate of Applied Science degree that provides basic and advanced knowledge of animal, plant and soil sciences for complex agriculture and sustainable food systems.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

Our ability in innovate and the willingness to apply best and promising practices in sustainable models.

 

Dr. Mary Hendrix, President
Shepherd University

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

Renewable energy technologies offer the state some of the most beneficial opportunities in the marketplace. The expanding growth rate of industries such as solar, wind, geothermal and battery production present our younger generations numerous and diverse employment prospects. West Virginia offers a healthy demographic and topographic area to implement these renewable systems and the associated manufacturing, production and service industries to support them. In discussions with key stakeholders in the state, Shepherd University has presented a plan to utilize vacated strip mining sites as the foundation for installation of solar and wind power generation. Battery storage in these locations may provide consistent reliable power. New and existing distribution systems could be transitioned and transformed to provide energy resources to the state, increase employment, stimulate economic growth and capture significant financial resources.

With the Eastern Panhandle’s proximity to the Washington metropolitan area, Shepherd University is positioning itself as the gateway to knowledge, innovation and new employment opportunities in the area. For example, Proctor & Gamble has recently moved to our region and is building a production factory that will require 700 new employees. This industry offers unique academic partnerships in a myriad of business areas, including data management and distribution logistics. Most importantly will be the new opportunities for our university students to engage in internship experiences with reciprocal benefits.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

This very discussion about the changing nature of our economy should remind us that educating students for their first job is not adequate preparation for what the economy will require 10, 20 or 30 years hence. Thus, it is crucial that universities do more than train students for jobs. They must provide students with skills and habits of mind that will help them be agile and successful in a changing environment. At Shepherd University, those skills include clear and persuasive writing, confidence in public speaking and presentations, critical thinking and intelligent skepticism, adeptness in quantitative skills, the ability to perform independent research and work effectively in groups and the imagination to understand how the world looks to people of different backgrounds, cultures and origins. Only a broad education can deliver those lifelong skills

At the same time, we specifically prepare our students for immediate success through a multitude of internships and co-ops, on-site observation and training in professions and collaboration with regional businesses through initiatives like the Strategic Alliance Partnerships at the Shepherd University Martinsburg Center. The ability to respond to workplace needs with targeted programs, such as the doctor of nursing practice or a newly created undergraduate major in data analytics, also helps align curricular offerings with economic demands. As a public liberal arts institution with strong programs in professions such as education, nursing and business, Shepherd University prepares its graduates with a toolbox of essentials skills that are applicable in a number of career settings, both traditional and developing.

As institutions of higher education, the key to innovation and excellence is to mirror those essential learning outcomes and work collaboratively with our community partners in the form of advisory councils to ensure the relevancy of current programs, meet future needs and prepare our students for success, which in turn will help the state’s economy. Additionally, our students can help West Virginia businesses by bringing new knowledge and creativity to these organizations through internships and co-operative experiences—all opportunities that help lead to future employment for the student, as well as providing a qualified work force for our state’s employers.

A recent study conducted by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research examined the enormous economic impact direct university expenditures like supplies and utilities, university payroll and out-of-state student expenditures have on the state’s economy. We are proud that Shepherd University ranks third in economic impact among the public institutions of higher learning at $91.1 million.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Increasing graduation rates starts with increasing the number of students from West Virginia going to college. Continuing to promote the value of higher education as an investment for a lifetime is critical. State funding for higher education along with student need and merit-based financial aid programs will continue to be pivotal for increasing college attendance, persistence and graduation rates. One of our new initiatives involves giving brief presentations to all the academic schools about Beacon and RamPulse. Beacon is a retention software program that enables faculty to identify students at risk.

Beacon also allows the institution to assess student survey responses in a number of cognitive areas, in addition to demographic areas that might cause the student to be at risk. This allows Shepherd University to have data based on a national norm. Shepherd has recognized the need to increase its retention rates across all student populations and has invested in a system that allows us to obtain different data to ascertain why students are not returning. RamPulse is an events software and application. It was rolled out last year to students who are the main target audience in an effort to boost student engagement in on-campus activities by providing reminders of events that are tailored to the students’ interests. Several departments across the institution advertise events through this program. In addition, a newly formed retention intervention team has been developed to include stakeholders from student affairs, faculty, students and enrollment management. A shift in focus is the assignment of accountability for every student to an intervention team member.

 

What does one strengthen within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

Improving the college readiness of high school graduates will translate into a more highly educated state. That readiness involves overall educational preparation, especially in writing, math and science. It also involves inculcating and rewarding intellectual curiosity and educating parents and students about what colleges offer that can enrich their lives. Collaboration between higher education and P-12, if exercised in a non-bureaucratic way, can help accomplish this.

We must as a state and state higher education system embrace innovation and take advantage of emerging opportunities while ensuring quality programs that prepare students for their future careers. In order to accomplish this, we must focus on new models of instruction, provide continuing education for lifelong learning in our communities, examine credentials for the professions outside of degree programs and ensure that institutions of higher learning contribute to the communities they serve outside of the classroom. Predictable, sustainable resources are required for such opportunities; however, as studies have shown, thriving institutions return this investment many times over to the local and state economy. A strong resource base allows institutions to support their current programs while at the same time engaging in planning anticipated emerging factors such as demographic shifts, globalization and technology. Institutions of higher learning can and should be the economic drivers of local and state economies, but key investments are required to prime the pump to prosperity.

 

Dr. Anthony Jenkins, President
West Virginia State University

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

The greatest attribute of the state of West Virginia is its people. West Virginians are resilient, compassionate and care for one another beyond measure. These qualities are how and why the people of West Virginia have consistently been able to reinvent themselves and move the state forward. They value hard work and understand the importance of education. The most significant current challenge to the people of West Virginia is economic opportunity as well as the reduction in state-appropriated funding related to education. From K-12 through higher education, the funding reductions have reached a critical point and therefore directly and indirectly impact access. It is important that we create a pathway for our citizens to fulfill the economic needs of our state and also enhance the quality of their lives. An entrepreneurial spirit is key to this effort, and there are opportunities for entrepreneurs right here in our communities to take their ideas from concept to fruition. However, funding for these support activities and the education needed to prepare the people of West Virginia to meet the economic needs must be stable and sustained.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Economic experts at West Virginia State University (WVSU) are vital to identifying and driving the conversation regarding future growth and investment opportunities for the state. Reports and industry studies have proven themselves worthy of exploration and consideration. Dr. Frehot Hailou, associate professor of economics at WVSU, has conducted an economic impact study of Senate Bill 298, or the brunch bill. His findings revealed an annual economic impact of over $1.3 million dollars in one county alone. The utilization of experts such as Dr. Hailou can be instrumental to our congressional leaders, the governor, Legislature, West Virginia Department of Commerce and so on, when considering which industries and companies to recruit to the state and which will provide the best return on an investment. A consistent relationship between higher education and the federal and state government in studying potential investments can guide and help determine the pathway for economic stability and growth.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

WVSU has been a sustained leader in this area of entrepreneurialism, creative economy and agriculture. As an 1890 land-grant institution, WVSU was founded on the principles of educating individuals in agriculture, among other areas of study. Recently, the university received a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant to research seed storage compounds and bioenergy with the goal of enhancing crop growth on reclaimed surface mine lands. The WVSU Extension Service is also investing in cold chain technology. Through this effort we are working to create longer-lasting fruits and vegetables by providing the state’s small farmers with education and resources. Cold chain technology refers to the proper refrigeration and storage of crops during the time between harvest by the farmer and end purchase by the consumer to help ensure peak freshness. The need to prolong crop life from farm-to-table has become more visible as the national foods movement has gained momentum in West Virginia and across the country. With regard to advancing the creative economy and entrepreneurialism, the WVSU Economic Development Center (EDC) is a co-working space for entrepreneurs, innovators, digital artists and more. For more than a decade, the WVSU EDC has offered business and entrepreneurship training, office space and small business start-up support. Individuals and students can participate in education workshops focused on digital and creative economy careers and services. The ability for our higher education institutions to be innovative and nimble—in not only what to teach but how to teach the leaders of today and tomorrow—in these areas will determine how quickly the economic promise of these industries becomes reality. From online education to continuing education opportunities, WVSU will remain nimble and innovative to carry on our legacy of leadership and driving the conversation in these areas.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

The world-class expertise of our institutions’ faculty can be the catalyst for positive economic change in West Virginia. In higher education, faculty are expected to educate and shape tomorrow’s leaders. And they do just that. They also guide today’s leaders with applicable knowledge for the challenges our leaders are facing now. At WVSU, our faculty has provided studies on issues impacting everyday life to our government leaders. We have seen that information impact legislation and industries and, in turn, our communities and the people who live there benefit. Our faculty are independent voices with the knowledge and understanding that is second to none. I would like to see more interaction between economic developers, legislators, executives and faculty to determine the best path forward for West Virginia.

 

Dr. Marsha Krotseng, President
Bluefield State College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

Certainly, the current economic challenges have impacted our higher education institutions. It is essential to recognize that West Virginia’s colleges and universities are a vital key to the state’s economic future. An educated work force is one of the major factors that attracts businesses seeking to expand or relocate, and our higher education institutions prepare and provide that work force. Education factors, including enrollment in degree-granting institutions and the number of science and engineering graduates, are used in ranking state economic competitiveness. Colleges and universities must partner with business, state, county and city leaders to bring our best creative thinking to bear as we envision a vibrant future for our state, define strategies to overcome current challenges and work to create that future. Emphasizing solutions, the state’s colleges and universities have identified and established numerous collaborative opportunities that equip our graduates for careers in current and emerging industries. The state, business and higher education can thrive if we apply our collective knowledge and come together to solve tough issues. West Virginia’s diverse colleges and universities are valuable assets to engage in that work. They also have a significant direct and indirect impact on the state and local economies. Public higher education institutions contributed approximately $2.7 billion to West Virginia’s economy in 2014. This impact is especially profound in cities in the southern coalfields. Where a college is present, it is one of the city’s largest employers. This is the case in Bluefield where Bluefield State’s impact is conservatively estimated at $33.7 million.

A crucial message for prospective students in the present environment is that a college degree is within your financial reach. West Virginia colleges and universities remain among the most affordable in the country, and many sources of financial aid are available to assist. The students of today and tomorrow are West Virginia’s future. We must nourish and safeguard that future by adequately funding programs that are developing the intellectual capacity and problem-solving skills that will move the state forward.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

This decision requires a strategic analysis of projected high demand, high growth industries and occupations and their match with the state’s resources, especially our human capital. State policy development should be informed by multiple sources, including education. Education plays an integral role in this process from several perspectives. Faculty and staff of higher education institutions offer research, information and analysis that can help inform policy. As they prepare the state’s future work force, colleges and universities must deliver or create new degree programs that are needed to support specific industries or occupations. Once specific industries have been identified, institutions must partner with them through creating advisory boards and other means to assure mutual success.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some of the fastest-growing occupations are in the health care and technology sectors. This includes nursing and allied health care fields, health care management, information technology and cybersecurity, software development and biotechnology. West Virginia is well positioned to provide a strong, well-educated work force for these industries. Small business development also is vital to the state’s economy, especially for smaller cities and towns.

Sources of venture capital and angel investors are critical to assist entrepreneurs in turning an idea into a marketable product. Continuing to invest in our colleges and universities also is essential. Courses in business, entrepreneurship, technology and robotics—among others—engage students in the creative work of developing an idea into an actual product or service that meets a defined need and can be transformed into a small business. Strong partnerships between Small Business Development Centers and higher education institutions strengthen and enhance opportunities to establish and nurture entrepreneurs. For example, Bluefield State hosts a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the building that houses the Cole School of Business, providing opportunity for interaction between SBDC staff and the campus community. Bluefield State also is working actively with the City of Bluefield through cooperative efforts involving entrepreneurship training, internships and economic development.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Increasing and retaining graduates is of paramount importance since 55 percent of all jobs in West Virginia will require at least a two-year degree by the year 2020 according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Work force. For traditional-age students, the vision of earning a college diploma begins while they are still enrolled in K-12 education. Thus, it is crucial that higher education institutions develop close linkages with K-12 schools. Outstanding college and university students can serve as tutors, mentors and role models who help K-12 students prepare for and navigate the college exploration and application process. Involvement in activities of this nature also benefits the higher education students who are more likely to persist and graduate from college. A very positive cycle can be created if those students who are mentored become mentors themselves after enrolling in college. The state also has great opportunity to increase the number of graduates by encouraging the significant number of West Virginians age 25 and above who have taken some college courses but never graduated to re-enroll and complete their degree. Ensuring wide understanding and availability of financial aid to assist both traditional and non-traditional students is crucial.

 

Dr. Fletcher Lamkin, President
West Virginia University at Parkersburg

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

West Virginia has become too dependent upon coal and gas and lacks diversity in its industrial base. The economy thus remains extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in gas and oil prices. Because West Virginia remains focused on oil and gas, displaced workers do not see a clear path from losing a job in the coal or gas industry to finding a good job in another industry. There also exists a culture that one should be able to get a decent-paying job without education. This notion is exacerbated by a tendency in public high schools that career technical education (CTE) students forego college and rely upon the secondary-level school training to pursue jobs. The fact that last year only about 1,500 of 5,500 CTE graduates statewide attended college is a critical problem wherein too many of our youth are not gaining the higher-level skills and knowledge necessary for success in the work force of the future. We need to change the culture such that students from grade school through high school are preparing themselves to meet future work force needs by earning college credentials, associate degrees or bachelor’s degrees and beyond.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

We need to invest in health sciences, construction, solar energy, agriculture, information technology, forestry and tourism. We also need to invest in entrepreneurial incentives to encourage new business leaders.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

The state needs to ensure adequate resources are provided to colleges to establish strong career counseling from admission through graduation and that teachers and professors are both qualified and certified to teach in their respective areas. It needs to establish career pathway programs that extend from middle school through college to educate and train our work force, as well as a guided pathways for success approach to post-secondary education to provide students a clear educational path to their careers. Colleges and universities need to provide the appropriate mathematics and English gateway courses to allow students to progress toward graduation without unnecessary and irrelevant barriers.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

We have a very fine university in WVU with arguably the most competent and experienced president in the country. Put him in charge of West Virginia’s education with the resources to accomplish our collective goals.

 

Carolyn Long, Campus President
West Virginia University Institute of Technology

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

One of the great challenges to education is the state’s unemployment and underemployment issue, especially in Southern West Virginia. When we have parents that are unemployed, we have students that are going to have difficulty coming to college. I think we have to find ways to provide more scholarships and grants and more ways to make sure that students who want to come to college can do so. It’s also important that we make sure all of our students understand how important it is to get an education, whether it be a two-year degree, a technical degree or a four-year degree.

Another major challenge is making sure our public education and our higher education match expectations. We need to work with one another to ensure students are ready to go to college so they don’t have to spend extra time and money on remedial classes. That’s part of our goal in life as a college. We need to continually work with the high schools in the state to make sure we all are on the same page. They need to know what we expect, and we need to better grasp what they expect from us.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

We have to move in a strategic way. We need to look at what we can do as a state that makes sense for us to grow economically. We can no longer limit ourselves to one or two things. We have to focus on economic diversity, and we also have to make sure that we can provide the work force that the new businesses and industries of West Virginia will need. More importantly, we must remember that what we’re going to be deciding today probably will not work 10 years from now, so we have to be very flexible in what we do.

As educators, we can contribute to that flexible, diverse work force by teaching students to think at various levels within their fields. They can still chase a specialization, but it’s important that they know how their field works in the greater scheme of things. We need to be able to produce students who can apply their skills in different industries and who understand the wider potential of the skills they gained in college.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

We certainly should keep an eye on the tourism and outdoor recreation industries. Those are areas we can build on in a very big way in the state of West Virginia.

We also need to take a hard look at technology. West Virginia is a state that is perfectly capable of being a world-class leader in the technology market and in technological innovation. We have fantastic engineering schools. We have a robust technical school network. We have technology consortiums in several parts of the state that are built for this kind of work. The key here is to develop these industries in such a way that we don’t have to build a great deal of new infrastructure. Right now, we’re not capable of doing that. Finding that balance will help to move the state forward in a powerful way.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

I think we have to do a better job of working with students that are having difficulties. We need to make sure students who are having trouble have access to the resources they need and that we have a way to work with them and help them become successful. Students certainly have to do their part, but if they don’t have the skills they need, then we need to find ways to build on what they do have to make them prepared for the classes we are going to offer them.

 

Dr. Johnny Moore, President
Pierpont Community & Technical College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

Economic prosperity for the state of West Virginia is hindered by the fact that only 53 percent of West Virginia’s adult population is either working or looking for work. The per capita growth is minimal, which directly impacts employers’ decisions whether to relocate to West Virginia or some other state.

The energy sector is an important driver of economic activity in the state. Natural gas output has grown by over 33 percent per year for each of the past four years. Total GDP from natural gas is expected to equal that of coal in the near future. Struggling industries within our region include fossil fuel extraction.

The impact we see on higher education is that more students enroll when economy is tanking, and then a decrease in enrollment is shown when the economy rebounds. Pierpont Community & Technical College is planning to have steady enrollment growth no matter the state of the economy.

Pierpont offers programs aligned with industry standards and best practices to keep the talent funnel filled with highly skilled workers. We help students retool their careers and upgrade their skills so they are more employable and less susceptible to cyclical layoffs.

Pierpont is focusing on ways to improve the health and education outcomes in the state to make West Virginia’s work force more attractive to potential businesses. We are on track to increase Pierpont’s annual graduation numbers from the current 400 to over 500 per year. This constitutes an increase of $4,000,000 in new wages for the region.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

Healthcare is an industry that will continue to grow and expand in West Virginia. We are seeing increasingly complex technology and data tracking systems designed to optimize patient care. Pierpont is at the cutting edge of technology in our School of Health Careers. In response to federal and state regulations for patient care and patient privacy, the health care industry will continue to bolster health information technology. Pierpont is providing an HIT program that has been recognized as one of the finest in West Virginia and will continue to offer health-related programs that will ensure that our citizens are receiving the best care on a consistent basis.

Gas and oil midstream and downstream operations will continue to offer career opportunities in our region. Gas drilling will eventually ebb away, but the pipelines, compressor stations, fractionation plants and crackers will be with us for generations. It is imperative that we ensure that this energy infrastructure is safe and productive.

The aerospace industry in North Central West Virginia is a flourishing hub of aviation-related activity. Along with Pierpont’s Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, the North Central West Virginia Airport hosts Bombardier, Lockheed Martin, FMW Composite, HQ Aero, KCI Aviation, Aurora Flight Services, Engine Airframe Solutions Worldwide, NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, Pratt & Whitney Engine Services and RCBI. Pierpont partners with many of these businesses and provides workers skilled in aviation maintenance and aircraft structures.

Cyber security is all the rage now across the globe. Pierpont is designing a cyber security program that will be available in fall 2017. We will offer training on mock break-ins, creating firewalls and attack prediction. Students will then pass on this knowledge to companies to protect themselves in the future. According to John Dancy, CIO of CSRA, “The most important protection you can have is a well-trained, cyber-aware work force, and I think the universities and community colleges and the types of training they can provide are critical to our future cyber security.”

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

A big factor that ties all the industries you mentioned together is tourism. Tourism spawns from an intense interest and support of a particular industry or activity. The natural beauty of West Virginia attracts visitors from all over the globe. Tourism is one of our largest and most underappreciated industries. Millions come to West Virginia for vacations, family reunions, sporting events, etc. Our goal should be to help tourists see the benefits of living in West Virginia year-round. Keeping future generations interested and invested in West Virginia will strengthen the creative economy as well as the supporting industries.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Using student portraits and data analytics, we can work closely with students to identify and project immediate needs to enhance retention. Once we know who our students are, we can put the necessary programs and support in place. By providing convenient access to services such as tutoring, study skills and counseling and setting up guided pathways to graduation will keep the student on track to completion.

 

Dr. Jennifer Orlikoff, Interim President
Potomac State College of West Virginia University

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

In Mineral County, where Potomac State College of West Virginia University (WVU) is located, there is an abundance of family farms. The farmers face the daily challenge of growing crops and raising livestock in such a way to gain a more lucrative return on their efforts. To help address this, the college has launched a new associate of applied science degree this fall in sustainable agriculture entrepreneurship (SAGE). The goal of the program is to teach and prepare students through hands-on learning while also applying their classroom knowledge of business and agriculture to create a successful business model. There has been a lot of momentum moving toward farm-to-table operations throughout the agriculture industry, which in West Virginia, presents countless opportunities for economic development and growth. Potomac State is in a unique position of owning more than 800 acres on three farms in an area that has traditionally been largely agricultural and also accounts for a large percentage of the state’s current agricultural productions. In addition to helping students, our goal is to help the regional economy by building strategic partnerships with local farmers who are interested in selling their crop production through the college to wholesalers.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

As we studied the current offerings of both Potomac State College and WVU as well as the growing market, it became obvious that there is a need for practical, hands-on training for students who want to go into business for themselves in either agriculture production or processing. Our plan is to address this with the offering of our new SAGE associate degree. Additionally, we’re working toward implementing a food hub project, which is a collection, processing and distribution center for foodstuffs. The Mineral County Development Authority recently approved for the college to purchase eight lots, including the shell building, at the Fort Ashby Business and Technology Park. As you can imagine, the operation of such an enterprise will take a significant amount of coordination among farmers and marketers. We hope to create a situation where our farms can produce enough product to satisfy a wholesale buyer and allow other farmers, students or cooperative members to market through the hub with Potomac State as the anchor producer in the hub.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Colleges and universities can help the state increase its graduation rate and retain students by collaborating with secondary education to ensure students’ preparedness for higher education. Additionally, comprehensive and purposeful advising of students will help them stay on track to graduate in four years. It’s also important for colleges and universities to keep costs affordable. Relative to this, Potomac State College has positioned itself as one of the most affordable four-year colleges in the nation as recognized again this year by the National Center for Education Statistics. Further, in order to retain students in the state after they have graduated, there need to be sufficient employment opportunities with competitive salaries in comparison to our surrounding states that allow graduates to use their degrees and education here in West Virginia. Having a strong technology infrastructure in place would attract businesses to the state, which would then increase employment opportunities at all levels.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

The strength of our state’s education system that is a catalyst to turn things around includes the life-changing Promise Scholarship and the opportunity for high school students to take early start, access and advanced placement courses. Higher education will be the game changer in our state’s economy.

 

Dr. Vicki Riley, President
West Virginia Northern Community College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

West Virginia currently faces multiple challenges—loss of population and traditional industries and reduction in employment. These challenges all have a huge impact on the bottom line of the state’s economy. A reduction in state revenue necessitates a valuation of where we place our state dollars. This can often lead to an erroneous categorization of higher education as an expense rather than a necessary investment in growing the state’s new economy.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

I regularly hear the stories of students struggling to pay for college. I believe the expansion of opportunities for need-based financial aid and additional training dollars would go a long way in encouraging students to enroll and continue to graduation. Retaining more graduates would be tied to jobs and quality of life. I think WV has great potential to build on both of these areas.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

Community colleges have evolved to now serve as the foundation of the nation’s higher education system, and we have begun to move West Virginia community colleges front and center as a significant player to impact the future of our state. Community colleges are uniquely positioned to be flexible and responsive and help build a work force from the ground up. We are here to help the communities we serve both attract and capitalize on economic opportunities through providing quality, affordable degrees and training.

 

Dr. Tamara Nichols Rodenberg, President
Bethany College

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

State investment into natural resources as engines for energy demands will serve the state going forward. The next generation is already aware of the need for sustainable forms of energy. Similarly, they will need forms of energy that can be renewed with as little additional infrastructure cost as possible. This means significant initial investments and ongoing upgrades through the years.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

Technology is advancing rapidly. Students will need to be trained at all levels of technology but will also need the ability to manage human resources. That is, students need to have education in both technical skills and leadership development. Leadership development will not be limited to task-oriented training. We will need students who can solve problems through broad critical analysis, work in contexts of diversity and be prepared to consider the significant implications of their decisions. Students will need both the core liberal arts and key sector skills.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

The state of West Virginia can increase graduation rates in college by investing in K-12 education. Additionally, the state can dramatically increase graduation rates by providing financial assistance to all students, whether they are attending a community college, state college or private college.

 

Dr. Harold Shank, President
Ohio Valley University

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

We believe the sky is the limit in West Virginia. Education and the larger state context will always face challenges, but we must dream bigger and prepare more effectively. We want to be part of sending out students who risk more, care more and dream more.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

Educators in West Virginia have a responsibility to prepare college graduates that are highly skilled in knowledge-based decision making. At Ohio Valley, we instill in our graduates the idea that a fulfilling life is not just about your work. It is about being a worker with competency and character and consistently demonstrating that to others. Those values will lead to a more purposeful life and raise expectations in the work force.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

At Ohio Valley University, we champion character. Democracy and free enterprise were built on character.

 

Dr. Chuck Terrell, President
Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

West Virginia’s economic strategy needs to become diversified to reduce its dependence on coal.

Eastern continues to develop and sustain relationships with internal and external stakeholders to provide a collective strategy to build institutional and community capital for entrepreneurship and economic development. The goal of the following college endeavor was not to perform a traditional scan and plan type of analysis but rather search for new possibilities and industries that could augment, expand and diversify our community’s wonderful existing and longstanding businesses and industries. While Eastern recognizes that attracting new businesses and big employers is important, that was not part of the effort of the “Pegasus Planning and Development: An Implementation Playbook for Fostering Entrepreneurship and Economic Development in the Potomac Highlands.”

Specifically, it was the goal to outline and identify potential income diversification strategies within the Potomac Highlands. The areas of focus outlined serve as umbrellas for future programs and projects that communities within the Potomac Highlands may wish to identify.

The goal for this effort is to increase collaborative efforts to create greater economic and entrepreneurial activities for all members of our community. In addition, Eastern endeavors to identify potential opportunities that will create incentives for younger members of its community to remain in West Virginia and not leave.

 

Which industries should West Virginia invest in today that will be in demand tomorrow?

Eastern is facilitating forums to develop action plans for small-scale, advanced manufacturing; agriculture and forestry; arts and tourism and technology. The college is integrating technology into agriculture to increase yield and improve management, and it recently created an Ag Action Council to convene, build and align agriculture strategies in the region. An AmeriCorps position and entrepreneur in residence from the New Biz Launchpad will lead regional meetings. Since West Virginia is conveniently accessible to large metropolitan markets that are interested in discovering new adventures and resources, Eastern is looking to create an arts and tourism action council to develop regional marketing strategies.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

Community and technical colleges can promote entrepreneurial growth, increase economic diversity and expand opportunities for income and wealth creation. Eastern created a nationally recognized and award-winning program called The Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (IREED), which is organized under the auspices of Eastern’s 501(c)(3) Foundation. IREED leads local and regional initiatives to educate and empower entrepreneurship and, as a result, encourages opportunities for financial independence across the community.

The New Biz Launchpad was established as part of IREED. The launchpad offers ongoing workshops, business training, physical office space, coaching, networking and classes coupled with expertise from successful entrepreneurs. The New Biz Launchpad entrepreneur in residence and program coordinator work with the community to help cultivate new entrepreneurial ideas and opportunities as well as improve current entrepreneurial endeavors.

Eastern has maintained an early focus on entrepreneurship. From developing curriculum and working with students to mentoring entrepreneurs to creating entrepreneurial ecosystems, education can play a key role in bringing about greater entrepreneurial opportunities and economic diversification. The future of the work force is going to require workers to create their own jobs and adapt their skill sets in an ever-changing global economy. In order to prepare West Virginia’s future work force, educational institutions need to help train workers to not only learn core technical skills but also augment that education with entrepreneurial skills like sales, marketing and customer development.

At Eastern, by working with entrepreneurs, students, farmers and small businesses, we have begun to cultivate a culture of entrepreneurship and economic diversification. Educational institutions need to evolve by taking a fourfold approach. From the highest levels, including college presidents, superintendents and principals, we need to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. Second, that mindset must be infused with administration and staff to encourage entrepreneurial thinking. Third, curriculum needs to be introduced that infuses entrepreneurial education into all class K-12 through colleges. Finally, educational institutions need to help serve as a catalyst for community entrepreneurship and economic diversification. This four-pronged approach to entrepreneurship will help drive beneficial changes within West Virginia today and tomorrow.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

Eastern’s mission is to provide accessible and affordable educational opportunities for academic, technical, work force training and life-learning. The college will continue to support and participate in the national and state college completion agenda. An additional strategy at Eastern is to provide access to short-term work force training that includes industry certifications that lead to gainful employment. There are career and technical employment opportunities that do not require a certificate or degree but demand specific skill sets that are documented through industry skill sets. A successful career pathway is possible through work force skill sets that are combined with lifelong learning professional development opportunities.

 

Dr. L. Marshall Washington, President
New River Community and Technical College

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

New River Community and Technical College has been challenged with declining enrollment over the past several years. This trend has occurred in most community colleges across West Virginia and across the nation. In its simplest terms, enrollment is dependent on the number of new incoming students and the retention of those students who are currently enrolled.

Declining enrollment of first-time freshman is at least partially related to a declining population of high school graduates and the general population in our service area. The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission reported that only 56.4 percent of 2012 high school graduates enrolled at a postsecondary institution the following fall, thus increasing the competition among institutions of higher learning for a limited number of traditional students. The state has also seen a decrease in population since 2012, according to U.S. Census data, with Southern West Virginia—including the nine counties New River serves—seeing a significant decline.

New River has received budget cuts from the West Virginia Legislature for the previous three years, along with other institutions, totaling an estimated $970,245 or 15.2 percent of its already low budget. The college’s tuition level remains above the state average, which places a disproportionate burden on our students. The revenue shortfall from tuition coupled with the compounding state appropriation cuts makes it very difficult for the college to provide accessible, affordable, quality education and work force programs to meet the needs of Southern West Virginia, which is the mission of our institution.

 

West Virginia is at a crossroads with its industries. In which direction do you think the state should move, and what role should education play in making these decisions?

New River is partnering with local high schools and secondary career and technical facilities to create career pathways for traditional students and expand college transition initiatives. Our work force programs offer a progression from certification to associate degrees such as emergency medical technical training toward a paramedic degree or certified nursing assistant training toward a practical nursing degree, making it easier for students to advance in their training. For those interested in a bachelor’s degree, we have agreements with colleges and universities that facilitate the process of transferring credits from New River to a four-year program. The state of West Virginia should ensure that its colleges and universities have the funds to continue these types of programs to ensure that people can have productive lives and careers that allow them to stay in West Virginia.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

New River is part of a five-state entrepreneurship education POWER grant and will partner with EntreEd, EdVenture, Behavioral Business LLC, NACCE and other community and technical colleges to take entrepreneurship education into secondary schools throughout Appalachia.

As part of a grant through the Benedum Foundation, we targeted specifically our cosmetology and automotive programs for entrepreneurial training. We purchased training materials for these programs and provided the materials at the campuses where these programs are housed. As part of this same grant, we also outfitted our student success centers with additional materials for students who are interested in opening a small business. The Student success centers are located on each of our campuses and their mission is to provide students with a comprehensive range of services and resources to enable students to reach their educational, lifelong learning and career goals.

We have also partnered with the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Region I Workforce Investment Board, Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Corporation, West Virginia Small Business Development Center, Raleigh County Commission, West Virginia University and a private foundation to establish a regional business accelerator and network of modern flex office spaces in Southern West Virginia. The Hive-Beckley has been created, and we are in the process of establishing a hive in Lewisburg.

 

Dr. Edwin Welch, President
University of Charleston

What is your perspective on the state’s current challenges and the impact they are having on education?

These are challenging times for West Virginia—for its citizens and for its institutions. The decline of the energy sector, coupled with the recent floods and other hardships, has real economic consequences. Some students and their families think the school of their choice is beyond their financial reach. It is essential that we provide financial aid for these students. Colleges and universities want to prepare their students to succeed in our fast-moving world and prepare for the jobs of the future even when it is difficult to know what those jobs will be. The University of Charleston’s (UC) strategy is to inculcate innovation and thus prepare students to be the ones to create the world in which they and we will live. Students today have a unique opportunity to develop new jobs and new products and change out-of-date ways of doing things. Encouraging students to be innovative thinkers is higher education’s greatest contribution.

 

How must education evolve to prepare our future work force?

Entrepreneurship, on a small or large scale, will certainly be an opportunity that is particularly appealing to millennials. They are not as driven by material wealth as perhaps their predecessors were. UC’s new Innovation Center is right on point in terms of supporting this creative/entrepreneurial economy. We are fully on-board and understand we have to support this cultural shift. That is why the University of Charleston is infusing innovation and entrepreneurship principles into every one of its curricular offerings and providing the Innovation Center resources to support those students who wish to pursue that path. The focus of the center will be experiential learning—hands-on opportunities for students to flex their creative/innovative muscles.

 

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

First, we must assure that students are ready for college both academically and emotionally. Second, we must make higher education affordable for students. Third, we must provide academic and other support systems for students to ease their transition to college and help them succeed. Fourth, we must have clear pathways to college success in fields that appeal to students and engage them in the learning process. Passive learning—sitting and listening—does not work for most millennial students. Fifth, we must help students transition from the world of study to the world of work. We need to be certain that we have prepared them adequately, and then we need to assist them in finding or creating their jobs and professions.

 

What is one strength within our education system the state can use as a catalyst to turn things around?

West Virginia’s education system has the diversity necessary for the effective education of its citizens. There are research institutions, regional four-year publics, four-year privates, for-profit colleges and two-year community and technical colleges. The missions of these institutions cover the spectrum of needed skills and knowledge. West Virginia will be well served if schools stick to their missions and avoid the temptation to be all things to all people or start programs solely to compete with other colleges or universities.

There are dedicated professors, committed administrators and talented students in all sectors of higher education in the state. With skilled leadership, necessary funding and a clear vision, West Virginia’s education system can indeed prepare the pathway for the future we all desire. Education can succeed in its role but an informed citizenry dedicated to meaningful change is also vital to achieving complete success.

 

Chris Wood, President
Davis & Elkins College

What can West Virginia do to increase its graduation rate and retain its graduates?

There are many facets to this, including economic opportunity, educational funding and pedagogy, but not to be overlooked is the basic human desire to find meaning and purpose in life. Research has demonstrated that millennials are a hopeful generation and when motivated properly can have a strong work ethic. So, the question facing educators is, “What will motivate these young men and women and provide meaning to their lives?”

Higher education has a unique opportunity to not only provide necessary job skills but also encourage this generation to explore and discover a sense of vocation, namely that which brings meaning to one’s life. When young adults discover what truly inspires and excites them intellectually, socially and spiritually, then they are driven to pursue that passion. The key is to find ways to link one’s job with one’s vocation.

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