Higher Education Policy Commission chair calls for focus on college completion following tuition vote

Charleston, W.Va. – Dr. Bruce Berry, chair of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, today released the following statement after the Commission voted 5-2 to approve in-state student tuition increase requests from West Virginia University (9.7 percent) and Potomac State College of WVU (8.1 percent), while voting 6-1 for an in-state student tuition increase request from West Virginia State University (7 percent) for the 2015-16 academic year:

“Affordability remains one of the biggest challenges facing West Virginia’s higher education community. As our state’s public network of colleges and universities, the responsibility lies with us to ensure West Virginians have affordable access to the postsecondary education they need to succeed in the economy of today and tomorrow.

“With our combined low tuition rates and strong offerings of state financial aid, including the PROMISE Scholarship and Higher Education Grant, a college education in West Virginia remains among the most affordable in the nation. In fact, West Virginia ranks eighth in the nation in aid provided to college students.

“Leading up to today’s vote, we heard from college students in West Virginia. They expressed to us what we wholeheartedly believe as well – that increasing costs shouldn’t be placed on the backs of students and their families. And that is especially true for low-income students in our state who have high aspirations – dreams of a college degree that they should be able to reach.

“Today’s vote was difficult. West Virginia’s economy has faced challenges in recent years and investments in higher education have been affected. Our campuses have had to save costs and increase revenues in a number of ways. We have seen first-hand that they haven’t relied singularly on tuition increases, but the question remains: When will it end?

“Year after year, West Virginia students have seen their costs go up. And year after year, it is harder for them to complete their education. Retaining students is the other enormous challenge facing our state’s higher education community. In fact, one study found that less than half – 48.2 percent – of bachelor’s degree-seeking students in West Virginia finished a degree within six years. The rate for low-income students was 38.7 percent.

“The issues of affordability and college completion are inextricably connected. When our students can no longer afford the combined, rising costs of tuition, fees, textbooks and living expenses, the prospect of persisting toward their degrees begins to fade.

“Our institutions recognize this challenge, and we know that part of what they plan to accomplish through additional tuition revenues is a deepened focus on student retention and completion. Rest assured, the Policy Commission will tenaciously examine progress toward these promises.

“And we will hold true to our public responsibilities of stewarding the state’s investments in higher education and ensuring college access and student success.”