Editorial: Marshall making right moves for future of education

To compensate for continued cuts to higher education in West Virginia, Marshall University President Stephen Kopp is preparing the school to operate like a private institution and reduce its reliance on government funding, the Daily Mail’s Samuel Speciale reported Tuesday.

Sounds like a great plan to help the future of quality higher education in West Virginia.

Marshall University is one of 12 state-supported colleges and universities, not counting the nine community and technical colleges operated by the state.

Originally a private academy to teach teachers, Marshall was absorbed by the young state of West Virginia in 1867. During the 20th century, Marshall rose from one of several teachers’ colleges to the second largest university in the state.

For decades, many in academic circles have questioned why a state with such a small population supports so many higher education institutions. State support is spread thin, no doubt, as some schools, most notably West Virginia Institute of Technology, struggled to maintain adequacy.

That question is not as prominent as it used to be, as today’s workforce needs more people with advanced levels of education than at any time in history. Closing schools would reduce access to higher education among West Virginians. Still, each institution must be strong enough to assure its success and its impact on students and the state’s future.

With money tight and the state reducing rather than increasing support, the actions being taken by Dr. Kopp and others at Marshall University are welcome.

It’s part of the evolution of education. For growing, multi-purpose institutions like Marshall, the time passed long ago to rely solely on tuition and taxpayers. With the growing role of higher education in research, economic development and job creation, more organizations have a stake in the outcome of higher education, and more are contributing.

“It is important to anticipate and prepare for a future unlike the past where there is 90 percent less funding,” Kopp told Speciale.

Kopp also recognizes that raising tuition rates is not always the answer, although Marshall and many other institutions have probably already gone too far with price increases.

Marshall is also looking at, as it should, increasing enrollment of international students and creating leading-edge science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.

Marshall and other institutions also need to seriously consider whether to maintain all ongoing programs and activities. Is each part of the university helping to draw students, revenue or more success? Nothing’s harder, it seems, than cutting a long-established program with popular faculty, but institutions must make the hard choices and not keep operating programs just because they always have.

But acting more like a private institution, minus the high tuition, and finding alternative funding sources is a good move by Marshall and any institution that wants to assure a successful future.

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