HEPC chancellor details effects of budget cuts to higher education institutions

2017-11-15 | The Register-Herald

Nov. 14--CHARLESTON -- The head of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission told legislators that five years of budget cuts to higher education has affected institutions in multiple ways -- including a reduction in reserves and higher tuition at public colleges.

Paul Hill, chancellor for the HEPC, presented the commission's appropriation request for the 2019 fiscal year during Monday's Joint Standing Committee on Finance.

Hill said the requested budget for the 2019 fiscal year is flat with 2018 with a few exceptions. He asked legislators to consider restoring student success program assessments, dedicating $10 million for deferred maintenance and about $1.4 million for the West Virginia State University land grant program.

Hill said House Bill 2815 reduced the commission's ability to collect $4.5 million to use for various programs including low-income student grants, international recruitment, minority doctoral programs, technology and WVNet.

He said the deferred maintenance is being felt across campuses, including Americans with Disability Act access, smoke and fire alarms and roofing projects. He said 80 percent of the request would go to four-year institutions and 20 percent to two-year institutions.

Hill said the land grant federal program at WVSU has been under-matched by about $1.3 million annually. He said additional support will increase research opportunities for faculty and students in addition to implementation and delivery of extension programming.

In the 2017 fiscal year, WVSU received federal appropriations of $2.95 million -- about $1.4 million for agriculture research and about $1.5 million in extension programs. Federal regulations require this appropriation to be fully matched with non-federal dollars.

"We are concerned that the federal government may pull the plug on this program," Hill said.

Hill also went into how budget cuts in the last five years have affected institutions. He said since 2013, higher education institutions have had a 21 percent reduction in state appropriations.

He said the effect of reductions gave him "some pause for concern" for some institutions, regarding cash on hand. According to a graph he showed in his presentation, several institutions -- including Bluefield State, Concord, Glenville State and West Virginia State University -- had less than 60 days of cash on hand for the 2017 fiscal year. Hill said 60 days represents a good number for reserves. West Virginia University was barely above the mark with 61 days, according to the graph.

Hill said there have been improvements with West Liberty, Glenville and Marshall for financial stability.

Hill also reported that tuition is 75 percent higher than it was in 2008.

Hill said the federal Pell grant program is not going as far as it once did.

"While the federal Pell has risen a little bit from 2011 from about $3,000 to a little over $4,000... tuition has come up to $1,400."

Hill said as a result of reduced spending, the commission has eliminated vacant positions, left additional staffing positions vacant, laid off employees, reduced work hours and outsourced services including food, lawn and building maintenance. He said many institutions also have gone through an effort to encourage early retirements.

He said the central office has also worked to save money through refinancing bonds, a move he expects to provide some financial relief to institutions directly. He said he hopes if there is a surplus from the re-bonding, then it will be put back into deferred maintenance at institutions.

Hill said the HEPC is focused on getting more students, including more adult learners as opposed to recent high school graduates, to complete a higher education degree.

He referenced a Georgetown study that said by 2020, 51 percent of all jobs will require some post secondary degree with that number increasing every year onward.

He also said unemployment associated with an advanced degree is half of that of a lower degree.

"Not only are they more likely to get employed but they will make more money too," Hill said.

Hill said last year, 18,500 degrees were awarded -- with 4,000 of those representing two-year degrees. Headcount enrollment in the state for four-year institutions is 64,577 students for fall 2016.

-- Email: alannom@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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