Report: WV receives little federal aid for education
By Mandi Cardosi, Government Reporter, WV State Journal
At a time when policymakers in West Virginia are making critical choices for higher education funding, a new report shows many states already have done the same.
A map of federal and state relationships in higher education funding bring up three key points: levels of funding coming from the federal government and states shift dramatically, many states cut federal higher education spending and major funding streams are distributed differently across states.
According to Phil Oliff, manager at Pew Charitable Trusts, state and federal governments have long provided funding for higher education, but in recent years, contributions have become more equal than any time in at least the past two decades.
Other key findings from the report include:
• Increasing access for students and supporting research, federal and state governments channel resources into the system in different ways.
• Policymakers across the nation face difficult decisions about higher education funding. Federal leaders, for example, are debating the future of the Pell Grant program. The Obama administration has proposed increasing the maximum Pell Grant award to keep pace with inflation in the coming years, while members of Congress have recommended freezing it at its current level. State policymakers, meanwhile, are deciding whether to restore funding after years of recession-driven cuts. Their actions on these and other critical issues will help determine whether the shift in spending that resulted in parity is temporary or a lasting reconfiguration.
• In a constrained fiscal environment, policymakers also will need to consider whether there are better means of achieving shared goals, including student access and support for research. Such approaches could entail more coordination, other funding mechanisms, or policy reforms.
• It will be necessary to think about the implications of parity and whether funding strategies will require changes in order to reach desired outcomes.
In the past, states have provided a far greater amount of assistance to postsecondary institutions and students; 65 percent more than the federal government on average from 1987 to 2012, the new data shows. The difference narrowed dramatically in recent years, particularly since the Great Recession, as state spending declined and federal investments grew sharply, largely driven by increases in the Pell Grant program, a need-based financial aid program that is the biggest component of federal higher education spending.
“A really key point from the analysis is the enormous variation across states,” Oliff said.
In West Virginia's case, self-sustaining operation spending is lower than surrounding states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. In specifics, things like hospitals and bookstores are the self-sustaining operations referred to in the report, Oliff said.
“Historically, between 2007 and 2012, states have provided 65 percent more funding on average than federal government,” he said. “In 2010, federal funding surpassed state funding ... a significant shift in a short period of time.”
During the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's budget started out with cuts to higher education. The West Virginia Legislature was interested in restoring some of the cuts.
“After listening to the needs of the colleges and our interests in truly developing our workforce base, we replenished many of those dollars,” said Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.
Although the cuts were restored, Tomblin used his veto power to have the final say and not include them in the final budget.
“Many reports that come across our desk indicate at times how we may not compare as favorably with state dollars going into state institutions,” Nelson said.
Chair of the Finance Committee in the West Virginia House, Nelson said he worked with Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, closely to help come up with the best possible budget. He said they will continue to move forward in doing what is best for the state.
According to a report released in May, if the Mountain State continues to cut from higher education funding it could result in negative consequences.
According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, when other states began restoring higher education cuts, West Virginia did not follow suit. As a result, tuition in the state rose dramatically and the quality of education has suffered, which will make it harder for the state to attract businesses that rely on a well-educated workforce, the report states.
“Smart investments in public colleges and universities will help to strengthen West Virginia's economy,” Sean O'Leary, fiscal policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said in a news release in May. “Communities with highly educated residents attract employers who pay competitive wages. Their employees then spend money in the community, boosting the economy of the entire area. That's what West Virginia needs.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, many states enacted legislation to address all three of the available means of influencing college affordability: appropriations, financial aid and tuition policy.
While most states have begun to restore some of the cuts, nationwide, states are spending 20 percent less per student on higher education than they did in 2008, the WVCBP said.