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Gazette editorial: A little less higher education bureaucracy?

Long ago, West Virginia’s state-supported colleges and universities mostly operated independently, each lobbying the Legislature for more tax money. The state Department of Education supposedly governed all schools except West Virginia University, which had its own board. But in 1969, an all-encompassing Board of Regents was created, allegedly to streamline higher education in the Mountain State.

Politicians promised that the Regents would consolidate some schools, eliminate others, reduce education bureaucracy and save public funds.

But none of those improvements occurred. Instead, the Regents became just another layer of state bureaucracy, spending millions of tax dollars and accomplishing little. Chancellor Leon Ginsberg was fired in a 1986 political coup, and he denounced the Regents as useless.

In 1989, the Legislature split the Regents into two boards, one for larger schools and one for smaller. In 2000, lawmakers reshuffled bureaucracy again, creating the Higher Education Policy Commission -- and later splitting off the Council for Community and Technical College Education.

This year, a legislative audit essentially found that both the latter bodies are worthless. They spend $3.5 million yearly but “do not provide oversight or accountability,” the report said. It added that they merely rubber-stamp tuition increase requests and do little to govern higher education.

Now a right-wing think-tank linked to the Koch brothers has joined the attack, saying the HEPC and CCTCE should be abolished.

However, HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill told reporter Jake Jarvis: “Our agency is a great bargain that provides a huge return on the state’s investment.” He said HEPC staff members bring colleges millions in grants, and also provide legal, financial and personnel services.

Could those benefits be acquired, even if the two agencies didn’t exist? When the new Legislature convenes next month, education committees should make an in-depth study to decide whether the two bureaucracies are worth keeping.

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