W.Va. tuition rising as state cuts funding

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W.Va. tuition rising as state cuts funding
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette

While 37 states increased per-student higher education funding for this academic year, West Virginia was one of the 13 that cut it, and one of only five that cut it by more than $100 per student, according to a report being released today.

The report by the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — which aims to reduce poverty and inequality and is funded by organizations including the Walmart Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation — also said the Mountain State was one of only three states, alongside Kentucky and Oklahoma, to cut per-student spending for two years in a row.

While per-student funding nationally rose $268, or 3.9 percent, after adjusting for inflation, West Virginia cut it in 2014-15 by $157, or 2.3 percent.The Mountain State has one of the nation’s lowest percentages of residents who’ve earned at least a bachelor’s degree.

In March, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a state budget bill that will cut overall higher education funding again in the next academic year by less than 1 percent — an amount equaling about $7 million, or $2.8 million than legislators had approved in their version of the budget bill. Tomblin had proposed a $12 million slash, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill with a $4.6 million cut, and the governor used line-item vetoes to bring the cuts closer to his plan.

The report said West Virginia was also one of only four states — alongside Hawaii, Louisiana and Tennessee — that raised tuition for this academic year by more than 4 percent, after adjusting for inflation. The national average was 1.2 percent, or $107.

Mountain State tuition has increased by almost a third — by $1,629 — since the 2007-08 academic year, around when the latest national recession began.

Some West Virginia colleges have already approved higher tuition for the next academic year, although increases over 5 percent must get a second approval from the state Higher Education Policy Commission, which meets May 29.

In late April, West Virginia State University’s Board of Governors approved tuition and fees increases equaling a roughly 7 percent jump for in-state undergraduates.

On May 1, West Virginia University’s Board of Governors approved a nearly 10 percent increase in tuition and fees for in-state students on its Morgantown campus and a nearly 5 percent increase for out-of-state students, along with separate increases for students at the WVU Institute of Technology and Potomac State College of WVU.

While many states are now increasing higher education funding, all but Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming are spending less per student than before the recession.
West Virginia is down by 23 percent since the 2007-08 fiscal year, or $2,013 per student, a larger drop than the national average of 20 percent, or $1,805. Funding in Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and South Carolina is down by more than 35 percent since the start of the recession.

“To return higher education funding to pre-recession levels, many states may need to supplement that revenue growth with new revenue to fully make up for years of severe cuts,” the report states. “But just as the opportunity to reinvest is emerging, lawmakers in many states are jeopardizing it by entertaining unaffordable tax cuts.”

The West Virginia Legislature has formed a Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform. In speaking to that panel last month, Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, cited the most recent “Rich States, Poor States” report by the corporately funded American Legislative Exchange Council, which dropped West Virginia from 30th to 36th in its ranking. Cole attributed the decline to other states “moving forward in aggressively cutting taxes.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report highlights residents’ increasing need for college degrees to enter the middle class, citing other publications that say young college graduates earn $12,000 more annually than individuals who did not attend college, and that within five years, nearly two-thirds of all jobs will require at least some college education.

“A slow economic recovery and the need to reinvest in other services that also have been cut deeply means that many states will need to raise revenue to rebuild their higher education systems,” the report concludes. “At the very least, states must avoid shortsighted tax cuts, which would make it much harder for them to invest in higher education, strengthen the skills of their workforce, and compete for — or even create — the jobs of the future.”