MONTGOMERY, W.Va. -- Committees charged with reviving West Virginia University Institute of Technology are considering new programs for high school teachers and a possible new major in adventure sports.But transitional executive leader Carolyn Long says the school will also have to consider shrinking the size of its faculty, hopefully through attrition, if it wants to thrive long term.Professors' salaries and benefits account for nearly $19 million of Tech's $21 million budget, and its 11:1 student-faculty ratio is the lowest of any public university in the state. Bluefield State is second at 17:1. Only private colleges have smaller ratios."If we have a faculty member that leaves, then we take a very hard look and see if other faculty members might be able to step up to the plate," Long told West Virginia Public Broadcasting at a meeting Thursday."Can we put another class there or make their class a little larger? We just have to learn to be more efficient," she said. "In higher education, that's not as easy as it sounds."Faculty Assembly Chairman Stephen Goodman is amenable to the idea of larger classes."If we had more students, that would be a great thing from a faculty perspective," he said. "Of course, having more students means you have to spend more time grading, but we have to grade anyway. What's an additional five or 10 papers? Not that much."The struggling Montgomery school has suffered a 50 percent decline in enrollment over the past decade, and a report to state lawmakers found that leaves it continually starved for operating funds.
Subcommittees studying strategies for survival have proposed continuing education programs to accredit public school teachers in math and science, and an adventure sports major that could include activities such as zip lining and whitewater rafting.Long said such a program would benefit both southern West Virginia, where that part of the state's tourism industry is concentrated, and the students."We certainly hope they stay in West Virginia," she said, "but if they don't stay in West Virginia and they want to go to Colorado or Arizona, they have the ability to do whatever they want to do in the adventure sport world."WVU pharmacy professor Robert Griffith, who chairs the education subcommittee at Tech, said he was initially pessimistic about the school's outlook. Now, he's "enthusiastically positive.""With these degree programs," he said, "Tech's going to pull it off and be a vital academically and financially sound institution in the next three to four years."A subcommittee also voted to pursue a $750,000 grant from the state's Higher Education Policy Commission to help fund a new Student Success Center.