West Virginia’s community college oversight and policy board on Thursday rejected Bluefield State College’s proposed expansion into Wheeling.
The Community and Technical College System’s board turned down the expansion plan in a voice vote, with no dissent.
Bluefield State, located about 2 miles from West Virginia’s southern border with Virginia, had proposed offering engineering associate’s degrees 290 miles north, at the former Ohio Valley Medical Center building in the state’s Northern Panhandle.
According to the agenda for Thursday’s board meeting, the city of Wheeling owns the former medical center building.
Despite Bluefield State generally being categorized as a four-year college, it currently offers several less-than-four-year degrees. Those include associate’s degrees, which community colleges usually offer.
Bluefield State’s plan was opposed by three West Virginia colleges that already serve the area: Wheeling University, which is private; West Virginia Northern Community and Technical College, which is in Wheeling and is public; and West Liberty University, which is public and also in the Northern Panhandle.
In a document attached to Thursday’s agenda, Bluefield State said surveys conducted by its marketing department “revealed an extremely high regional student demand” in the area.
But Corley Dennison, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Community and Technical College System and its sister agency that oversees four-year colleges, cited other data Thursday indicating otherwise. No one from Bluefield State spoke up at the online-only meeting to answer questions or object.
Board member Bill Baker moved to table the issue until someone from Bluefield State could speak, but fellow board member Bob Brown suggested otherwise.
“I think, even if someone were on the call from Bluefield, I can’t imagine they could have anything to say that would convince me based upon the information we’ve heard this morning and a lack of any hint of a need,” Brown said. “We have schools that could offer these programs if, in fact, there was a need.”
Brown added, “I would prefer just to vote this thing down and not table it, I don’t think we should waste anymore time on it.” Baker then withdrew his motion and the board voted down the expansion.
“It seems like this is more of a plan to help the city of Wheeling, which you know I don’t have an issue with,” said Christina Cameron, who took over as chairwoman of the board Thursday from Brown. “But to use educational resources that are, at times, in short demand, I don’t see it being — the community colleges or the colleges of the state — their responsibility to prop some of the cities up at our expense.”
Bluefield State did not return a request for comment for this report.
On Thursday, in a voice vote with no dissent, the board promoted Cameron from vice chairwoman to chairwoman and chose Brown as vice chairman. State law says the same person can’t lead the board for more than four years in a row, and Brown had hit that limit.
Also Thursday, the board received a report showing the community colleges are generally keeping tuition flat next academic year for in-state students.
Only three colleges are increasing general tuition: Mountwest is raising its annual cost about $230, to hit $4,690; New River is increasing $220, to $4,590; and Northern is increasing by $70, to $3,940.
Even with those increases, the state’s free community college tuition program still allows many students to attend without paying tuition or fees. For more information on that program, visit www.wv invests.org.