WHEELING - Higher education may be considered an investment, but it is an investment that some schools are finding harder to maintain at a reasonable cost due to budget changes.
Last year, West Virginia public colleges and universities found themselves on a road to decreased state allocations, as they took a 7.5 percent cut in state funding.
For schools such as Marshall University, which is coping with more than a 10 percent reduction in state appropriations from a year ago, responsible financial management is key to weathering the storm.
Photo by Rick Haye, Marshall University
The Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex is currently under construction on Marshall University’s Huntington campus.
Photo Provided (OSU)
According to Amy Murray, assistant director of university communications media and public relations for The Ohio State University, “Ohio is fortunate that we actually have not experienced cuts in state-General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations.”
"We're reducing hiring and not filling some critical positions. We've had to use reserves to keep tuition increases to a minimum, but we're being forced to operate more and more like a private institution," said Matt Turner, Marshall University's chief of staff.
"We've long ago cut the fat, so now we're cutting into the muscle."
Cutting into that muscle includes consolidating a variety of high-level administrative positions. The goal, according to Turner, is streamlining efforts as one way of absorbing state reductions.
A second goal involves having course offerings better accommodate the job market.
"We've also shifted more resources to high-demand programs and strategically reduced or eliminated degrees and courses that do not meet the needs of today's workplace," Turner said. "We have seen tremendous growth in the engineering and health professions ... and have expanded our offerings recently to include an amazing School of Pharmacy and School of Physical Therapy, as well as a master's degree in health informatics."
In addition to placing an increased emphasis on the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Marshall University plans to complete construction of a new visual arts center in downtown Huntington later this year. Turner said there is a demand for additional arts instruction and student labs.
Looking ahead to 2015, the university anticipates opening the Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering Complex.
The complex "will be one of the most stunning buildings in the state and will allow Marshall to offer the latest technology and instruction in engineering, mathematics, computer modeling, information technology, digital imaging and research," Turner said.
According to Amy Murray, a spokeswoman for Ohio State University, "Ohio is fortunate that we actually have not experienced cuts in state-general revenue fund appropriations."
"Although we have not experienced direct state funding cuts over the last budget cycle, clearly days of relying on significant increases in funding from our government partners is no longer reasonable," Murray continued.
Ohio State is taking action to encourage efficiencies, cut costs and identify alternative revenue strategies. Such efforts include leasing parking operations and issuing century bonds.
Reducing costs while reinvesting in the university's academic mission, by offering "new majors of interest" such as neuroscience, sustainability, air transportation and environmental public health, also helps "keep tuition increases down while allowing OSU to hire additional faculty," Murray said.
She also cited efforts by Ohio Gov. John Kasich to reform the state's higher education funding formula and "improve graduation rates and incentivize colleges and universities to provide necessary resources to students and align programs with Ohio's workforce needs."
One further area of both funding and personnel concern in West Virginia comes with Senate Bill 330, legislation passed in 2011 that seeks to centralize, through the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, how salaries for faculty, classified and non-classified personnel at the state's colleges and universities are set.
A school such as West Virginia University, which is working to improve its course and research offerings and also upgrade its faculty, has concerns that under SB 330, the university may not be able to recruit and retain faculty members.