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W.Va. colleges work to replace funding cuts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia has seen a dramatic decline in overall state funding for its major public research universities, with policymakers slashing funding by 30.4 percent between 2002 and 2010, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Science Board.The report found that West Virginia lawmakers had cut per-student funding for the state's research universities from $10,396 per student in 2002 to $7,232 per student in 2010."Following the two recessions that book-ended the last decade, states had serious budget shortfalls," National Science Board Chairman Dr. Ray Bowen said Tuesday. "The decline in support is a cause of concern. Also, in many states, the decline has been somewhat offset by tuition increases, which in turn limits opportunities for students with limited resources."West Virginia research institutions such as Marshall University have felt the state-funding pinch.Ginny Painter, communications director at Marshall, said the school has made an effort to diversify its sources of income, with an emphasis on netting federal and private grants for research initiatives."These cuts to state funding for higher education really drive home why increasing university research is important," Painter said. "Grants and contracts from federal and private agencies help offset reductions in state funding."In 2002, the Huntington-based university drew about $28 million in these grants and contracts, but by 2011 increased this funding to about $45 million, thanks to a targeted funding initiative, Painter said.West Virginia University has made a similar commitment to move away from a heavy reliance on state funding to capturing external research grants.
The WVU Research Office has ratcheted up its search for private and federal funding streams and saw a spike in grant applications, according to Curt Peterson, WVU vice president for research and economic development.WVU netted $174 million in sponsored research funding for the 2010-11 fiscal year, nearly a record for the university."WVU is a significant player in the national competition for research and innovation grants and contracts," WVU President Jim Clements said in August. "With this year's success, our faculty and staff, as well as our graduate students, deserve a great deal of credit."Down the road, Painter said she expects research universities to continue the grant-hunting trend as uncertainty continues in state funding for higher education. Marshall University will increasingly rely on large competitive grant awards -- like a $3.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation announced last week, Painter said.Mike McKown, director of the State Budget Office, seemed surprised by the results of the National Science Board study on Tuesday, saying he would have to review the funding results before commenting.West Virginia was not alone in slashing funds for its research universities since 2002.The National Science Board report said state funding declined by 10 percent nationally between 2002 and 2010, with nearly three-fourths (72 of 101) of the universities in the study experiencing cuts in state funding.
Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.
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