W.Va. public colleges, universities retaining and graduating more students over last five years, report says

South Charleston, W.Va. – West Virginia’s public colleges and universities are keeping more students in school after their freshman year and seeing them through to graduation, according to a five-year trend report presented today to members of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (the Commission).

The annual Higher Education Report Card tracks data including enrollment, progression and graduation rates from West Virginia’s 21 public colleges and universities. For the 2017 report, Commission staff reported that retention rates at baccalaureate institutions were up 2.7 percentage points overall for a five-year period, while four-year graduation rates increased 8.3 percentage points, also during a five-year period.

“I take great pride in these improvements, which show that our policy agenda for higher education in West Virginia is on the right track,” said Commission Chancellor, Dr. Paul L. Hill. “We are making solid progress in student achievement at a time when our overall budgets have been reduced.”

These improvements come during a time of smaller West Virginia high school graduating classes and amid a decrease in undergraduate enrollment at colleges across the country. West Virginia’s four-year public college undergraduate enrollment decreased 5.9 percent from 2012 to 2016, according to the report.

With fewer local students to recruit, West Virginia colleges in recent years have targeted high school students through dual-enrollment programs, college-level classes taught at high schools. These classes count for both high school and college credit, allowing promising high school students to earn college academic credit early and typically at a much lower cost.

Between the fall semester of 2012 and the fall semester of 2016, the number of high school students participating in dual enrollment courses jumped nearly 93 percent, according to the Report Card.

“With the nearly doubling of the number of high school students taking college courses in the past five years, dual-enrollment has enabled West Virginians to get a head-start on their postsecondary education,” Dr. Corley Dennison, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, said. “Not only does it save students and their families money, making college more affordable, it also shortens their time to earning a degree following high school graduation. With 51 percent of all jobs in the state requiring some type of degree beyond a high school diploma, dual-enrollment will enable these students to join the workforce sooner.”

West Virginia’s four-year public colleges also enrolled a record number of students from underrepresented minority groups in 2016, up 16.7 percent from 2012, according to Dr. Chris Treadway, Senior Director of Research and Policy for the Commission.

“While West Virginia has a small percentage of racial and ethnic minority residents, this increase suggests that our public colleges and universities have been more successful at recruiting and retaining students from historically underserved populations,” Treadway said.

Commission seeks input on new student-focused higher education funding model

Hill said the retention and degree attainment data presented in the Report Card is the same type of data that would be used to help determine institutional funding levels, under a proposed higher education funding model that also was presented to the Commission today. The funding model was researched and prepared by the Commission at the direction of the West Virginia Legislature, following passage of House Bill 2815 during the 2017 legislative session.

Legislators have asked the Commission to finalize its recommendations for the institutions’ funding model before this fall, in anticipation of deliberation and action during the 2019 legislative session.

Following the presentation of a proposed funding model, Commission Chairman Michael J. Farrell announced that the Commission would allow a 30-day public comment period for feedback on the proposed model. Farrell said the Commission is seeking responses from the state’s public colleges and universities, as well as any other interested parties. The comment period concludes April 27.

The presentation may be viewed at https://www.wvhepc.edu/resources/reports-and-publications/ and comments related to the model may be sent to chancellor@wvhepc.edu.  

Also at the Commission meeting, commissioners received an annual report on state financial aid programs; approved a new bachelor’s degree program in adventure recreation management for WVU Institute of Technology; and learned about plans for the Commission’s April 1 conference to help schools learn how to increase enrollment. 

Farrell also announced that a committee will be named in the coming weeks to start the search for a chancellor to succeed Dr. Paul L. Hill. Named chancellor in 2012, Hill announced last year that he planned to retire after the conclusion of his contract in 2018. At the request of Farrell, Hill has agreed to serve in the role until his successor is named.

“It has been my great honor and privilege to lead the Commission staff, programs and initiatives over the past six-plus years,” Hill told members of the Commission during his report. “I am proud of the accomplishments our team has had, and the impact on thousands upon thousands of West Virginians as a result of our efforts. We have worked across the public system to make college education more affordable; promoted student success and persistence; and helped students make it through to completion and walk across that stage with a degree in hand.”