Capehart: West Virginia needs a new model of higher education | News, Sports, Jobs

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Robin Capehart, President of Bluefield State College

CHARLESTON – Robin Capehart, president of Bluefield State College, said lawmakers should consider developing a new governance structure for West Virginia public colleges and universities that rewards schools for meeting workforce needs.

Capehart shared his thoughts on the funding formulas and governance structure for four-year colleges and universities and two-year community and technical colleges at a Sunday meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Education.

“What we want to do is offer the market a better and more personal academic opportunity and let the market decide”, Capehart said. “I think if there is a need, the market will fill it. I think it will either be more efficient physical institutions or it could be online. “

Capehart proposed a bill for the next regular session in January, called the Access to Education Act. The bill would build on an idea first proposed in 2018 by members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education to do away with the Higher Education Policy Commission.

Instead, Capehart said lawmakers should create an office for post-secondary education. As originally proposed, the Office of Post-Secondary Education would deregulate the state’s 10 public colleges and universities and give more power to their boards.

But Capehart has said he would like to see lawmakers repeal laws that prevent colleges and universities from offering certain programs.

Instead, Capehart wants a level playing field where colleges and universities compete for program delivery and taxpayer dollars.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we need a new model” Capehart said. “We need a model that focuses on access to education, not power and land protection. We need a model based on competition, not on command and control through bureaucracy. I think we need a system that allows colleges to innovate, create, and meet the needs of students and their employers.

State book laws limit the types of programs colleges and universities can offer, requiring approval from the HEPC and the West Virginia Community and Technical College System. Only community and technical colleges can offer two-year programs unless a program has been grandfathered.

Other two-year and four-year schools may object to the HEPC or WVCTCS to prevent another school from starting a new program, even if the objecting school does not already offer the program itself. . Bluefield State College has encountered this problem in the past when trying to create a surgical technology program in southern West Virginia and trying to offer an engineering technology program in the North Panhandle.

“It wasn’t done out of spite or anything like that”, Capehart said. “It was really just people trying to protect their territory. And everything was done according to state law.

Changes to these laws exempt the University of West Virginia, WVU Tech at Beckley and Marshall University, allowing them to set up programs anywhere. Additionally, while other four-year regional colleges must seek approval for new programs, two-year community and technical colleges offer similar academic programs to four-year schools while focusing less on developing the field. workforce.

According to the 2020 HEPC total enrollment for state community and technical colleges, of the 15,817 students enrolled, 13,538 were enrolled in university programs while 2,392 were enrolled in workforce development programs. of work. And with residents able to enroll universities across the country with online programs, such as Southern New Hampshire University, Liberty University and others, Capehart said program duplication is already happening.

“When you consider the close proximity that exists between community colleges and four-year colleges, I would say that there is already a duplication. “ Capehart said. “The proliferation of anytime, anywhere, anywhere programs already exists in West Virginia through hundreds of other online institutions that can come into anyone’s home anywhere. in the state.”

The Higher Education Policy Commission is creating two performance-based funding formulas to distribute more than $ 400 million in taxes per year from the general revenue budget to 10 four-year colleges and universities across the state and at nine community and technical colleges based on the Tennessee curriculum.

Representatives from the University of West Virginia, Marshall University and the West Virginia Council of Presidents expressed support for the HEPC funding model at an interim legislative meeting last month. Only Capehart and Casey Sacks, interim president of BridgeValley Community and Technical College, pushed back on the plan.

Capehart declared its Access to Education Act and its efforts to give small regional schools a better chance to compete.

“We have to be competitive because 70% of our budget comes from tuition fees, fees and grants and other sources”, Capehart said. “It’s extremely competitive there. And for us to be competitive, we have to have a level playing field and we have to have flexibility. “

Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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