Gov. Jim Justice’s state budget proposal for next fiscal year doesn’t include increasing the annual funding for West Virginia’s smaller four-year colleges by $10 million, as the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education has requested.
Whether the $10 million will ultimately be provided is among multiple open questions regarding how the state’s public four-year and community colleges will be funded following last year’s increased public debate on the subject.
The other questions include:
- Will the Republican-led Legislature pass the free community college tuition bill that Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, has prioritized, and Justice supported in the last regular legislative session, and fund its estimated $7 million annual cost?
- Which, if any, of the funding formulas proposed in the past year by the state higher education oversight agencies will lawmakers use to determine each college’s state funding level?
- Will lawmakers and the Republican governor instead ultimately grant the Blue Ribbon panel’s requests to get the $10 million immediately and be allowed to work longer on a funding formula different from what’s already been presented?
- How will the governor’s $25 million “Jim’s Dream” proposal for a drug abuse prevention and treatment/jobs training program affect higher education?
- Will West Virginia State University ever get a full state match for its federal land grant funding to ease concerns about losing the federal dollars?
- And, regarding something not discussed much publicly last year but raised multiple times in Monday’s House Finance Committee meeting, will lawmakers pledge money beyond the governor’s proposed “5 percent” pay raise for state employees to ensure that all college employees, including those funded by tuition and not state general revenue, can get a raise?
The questions come amid reports of shrinking college enrollment and colleges’ stated struggles with the continuing effects of past state budget cuts.
Public community college headcount enrollment dropped 9 percent last academic year from the year before. Four-year colleges saw a 3 percent drop in headcount enrollment from last fall to this fall, but their first-time freshmen enrollment dropped 9 percent.
Employees in Justice’s office Monday didn’t answer why the $10 million isn’t in his budget proposal. The Blue Ribbon panel approved the request in October, and the money would be divided among every public four-year college, except for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, Marshall University, West Virginia University and their branch campuses.
WVU President Gordon Gee leads the Blue Ribbon meetings. WVU News Director April Kaull wrote in an email Monday that “the Committee met in December and again in early January with the goal of providing a thorough set of recommendations related to the key factors this group was tasked with addressing.”
“That work continues,” Kaull wrote. “We are not in a position to speak for the governor’s office, but hope once that work is finalized the process will continue to move forward.”
The Higher Education Policy Commission hasn’t even included the requested $10 million in its budget enhancement requests, which are those requests state agencies make beyond the governor’s budget proposal.
HEPC interim chancellor Carolyn Long, who led the WVU Institute of Technology, a branch campus, before taking her current position, said she has “no idea” why the $10 million isn’t in the governor’s proposal.
“They asked us to give them a level budget, which we did,” Long said of the Governor’s Office. She said the $10 million isn’t in the enhancement requests, because it “never came through HEPC, it only came through the Blue Ribbon Commission.”
Justice previously set a Dec. 10 deadline for the Blue Ribbon panel to present him with a report. But despite the October vote to recommend the $10 million and a more recent approval of a collaboration subcommittee report, the panel still hasn’t officially ended its work, nor has the governor publicly said if he’s accepting recommendations after that deadline.
The remaining issue the Blue Ribbon Commission is working on is a proposal to remove significant power from the separate state HEPC (unlike the Blue Ribbon Commission, it’s an actual state agency headed by a different board) and perhaps even replace it with a new agency.
House Finance heard budget presentations Monday from the chancellors of the HEPC, which oversees the four-year schools, and the state Community and Technical College System, which oversees community colleges.
The leaders of both entities said the proposed 2019-20 fiscal year budgets for their central agencies and the colleges they oversee are the same as this fiscal year, save for increases for the governor’s proposed pay raise and proposed increase in Public Employees Insurance Agency state health insurance funding.