Report: Large portions of families' income needed to pay for W.Va. higher education

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Report: Large portions of families' income needed to pay for W.Va. higher education
By Bill Frye Register-Herald Reporter

A new report compiled by the Southern Regional Education Board details how much the Mountain State’s higher education costs affect the state’s families.

The report was commissioned by the SREB through the Higher Education Policy Institute to detail data and trends to assist state policymakers in “assessing the dimensions of the affordability issue and the need for state policy initiatives or interventions,” the report stated.

According to the report, in 2013, West Virginia families would have to pay up to 17.4 percent of their income for higher education expenses for one student attending a public two-year institution in the state. That’s a 1.4 percent increase from five years earlier in 2008.

The 20.1 percent income needed for West Virginia higher education institutions is about 9 percent less than the national average.

The report showed that if a family makes $16,962 annually, upward of $2,882 of that income would be needed to pay for the student’s tuition expenses at the state’s lowest-priced public colleges.

For a public four-year institution that number rises to 20.1 percent of the family's income, which was a rise of 1.4 percent from 2008.

Further, the SREB report stated that 28 percent of West Virginia families make less than $30,000 annually. In that bracket of annual income, families average a $16,962 annual income. Those families would have to spend 41 percent of their annual income to cover the cost of a student at a public four-year Category 1 institution.

The report categorized only one institution as a Category 1 public four-year institution, West Virginia University.

Much is the same with families who have students at Category 2 public four-year institutions. The report named Bluefield State College, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, Marshall University, Concord University, and West Virginia State University.

Families who make less than $30,000 annually would need 42 percent of that annual income to pay for their student's education expenses at those Category 2 institutions.

WVU’s Board of Governors recently announced tuition increases for its main campus in Morgantown. Those increases raised tuition for West Virginia resident students by $252, the total of which would be $3,480 per semester.

“While we recognize that increasing the tuition even one dollar is a concern for our current and prospective students, a West Virginia University education remains one of the best investments you can make,” President Gordon Gee said. “Even with the rising cost of higher education, the return over a lifetime remains substantial – even into the millions of dollars.”

The announced increases also affected West Virginia University Institute of Technology, raising tuition for resident students by $120, to a total of $3,024 per semester.

At public two-year institutions, the burden of higher education expenses would be greater on families who make less than $30,000 a year than families who make $30,000-$48,000. Families who make less than $30,000 a year would have to pay 38 percent of their annual income for higher education costs, whereas families who make $30,000-$48,000 would only have to spend 17 percent of their annual income.

The SREB’s report also stated that tuition and fees at public four-year and two-year institutions in West Virginia have been growing more rapidly than either inflation or family income.

The report also states the importance of West Virginia students working for higher education degrees.

“By 2020, the Georgetown Center for the Workforce predicts that 55 percent of jobs in West Virginia will require postsecondary education or above,” the report stated.

The report does not detail the affordability ranges for the state’s community colleges.