BRIDGEPORT — Gov. Jim Justice said Friday that he wants his Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education not to back consolidating college boards of governors, despite a report that recommends it.
Additionally, several commission members want the panel to consider community college issues, as well.
“How do you not include the community colleges, the vocational education in public education? It’s all a systemic feeder system, this lifelong learning,” said Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, one of six nonvoting lawmakers on the commission. “If we’re going to look at fragmented sections of higher ed., this is going to be a colossal waste of time.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, another commissioner, said he absolutely supports the inclusion of community colleges.
West Virginia State University President Anthony Jenkins said he wants to see data on the state’s costs before and after the government separated community colleges from the four-year schools.
The commission’s guidelines also say all its meetings, including any possible subcommittee meetings, are subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act, although the three commission co-chairs (the presidents of West Virginia University, Marshall University and Concord University) met in a nonpublic meeting to develop the guidelines plus provide recommendations for the governor’s charge. They are planning to meet privately again Monday.
Marshall President Jerome Gilbert said the three will discuss structure, which could include forming subcommittees. Panel commissioner Eric Lewis, who also is president of the Shepherd University Board of Governors, requested Friday immediate formation of subcommittees and an immediate public comment process.
“We’re not going to make any substantive decisions on our own,” Gilbert said of the three co-chairs.
This was new information revealed amid Friday’s first public meeting of the commission. On multiple occasions, commissioners noted the Dec. 10 deadline for their report to be submitted to Justice.
The Higher Education Policy Commission, a separate commission led by its own board and an actual state agency overseeing four-year colleges, has been dealing with a demand from lawmakers for a college funding-formula proposal. That proposal’s due date also is before the next regular legislative session, which starts in January.
If the HEPC staff’s proposed funding formula, detailed at a March HEPC board meeting, had been fully implemented using this past fiscal year’s $229.4 million total base general revenue appropriation (the only pot of state funding it would affect), the formula would have dropped funding for just three four-year schools. WVU would have lost $9.2 million, the WVU Institute of Technology would have lost $3.3 million and Glenville State College would have lost $1 million.
Justice formed his blue ribbon commission just about a month ago, saying it’s meant to study colleges’ funding and sustainability and the “role and value” of the HEPC. He also charged the HEPC will helping his commission in its task.
Earlier this month, the HEPC’s board voted to appoint WVU Tech President Carolyn Long as interim HEPC chancellor. WVU Tech is a WVU System campus. The move was opposed in a statement by all public four-year college presidents except for the presidents of Glenville, WVU, Marshall and their branch campuses, who weren’t invited to the conversation that resulted in the statement.
Around the start of this month, the HEPC released, following a Gazette-Mail open-records request, a report dated April 3 that recommended merging the governing boards of Bluefield State College, Concord, Glenville and WVSU.
The document, from the Colorado-based nonprofit National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, labeled those four schools “Medium Risk to High Risk” in sustainability, saying they are “sustainable in the short-term, but their futures are uncertain.”
The report recommended this move, in the short-term for Bluefield and Concord and in the long-term for Glenville and WVSU, and suggested “initially” retaining the separate boards of governors for Fairmont State, Shepherd and West Liberty universities, “but with additional powers regarding governance of institutions explicitly delegated” to the HEPC.
But Justice’s “charge” Friday to the blue ribbon commission, separate from his earlier executive order that created the panel, says his commission “will recommend policies that support keeping schools in communities with institutional local governing boards, and that support mission differentiation, particularly, service, research and innovation.”
The charge also said the blue ribbon commission will “examine policies and governance structures to provide institutions the ability to streamline administrative services to increase quality, create potential economies of scale and scope, including provision of services by a central service-providing entity” and “examine policies that facilitate compatibility and alignment among the institutions and any central service-providing body.”
The NCHEMS report was funded with $60,000 from the Pennsylvania-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, with up to $10,000 additionally for travel, according to NCHEMS’ vice president. Gordon Gee, WVU’s president, said he thinks the report is “dead.”
Several blue ribbon commissioners suggested that the future structure they might recommend to the governor will determine the funding formula.
Drew Payne, a blue ribbon commissioner and vice chairman of the HEPC board who served on the WVU Board of Governors for nine years, said he wants to “come up with a structure and a process that is West Virginia’s higher education model, and I would say that, and then I would think, at the end of that, once we’ve come up with this structure, which we know needs to be changed from the current structure, the funding formula will come at the end of it and it’ll be obvious to all of us what it should be.”
Gary White, a commissioner who’s currently on the Marshall Board of Governors and once was the school’s interim president, said, “We have to agree upon a structure, and then talk about a funding mechanism that fits the structure. To do otherwise is just throwing money at a problem.”
Jay Cole, a senior adviser to Gee who is not on the commission, presented Monday on the state’s history of changing higher education governance structures and the aspects of different such structures here and in other states.
“Funding, how we promote educational attainment, how we achieve the governor’s goals of keeping colleges in communities, all of that flows really from the fundamental decision you make on governance structure,” Cole said. “If you design it well, then all of these decisions should flow logically from that.”
Long said the HEPC staff’s funding-formula proposal is planned to be presented at the HEPC board’s next meeting. She said the proposal presented might have some tweaks, based on public comments received, but not changes based on her own input.
The proposed funding formula was overwhelmingly based on in-state students. Lewis, the president of the Board of Governors for Shepherd, in the Eastern Panhandle, said the blue ribbon commission needs to look at out-of-state students, as well.
Prezioso said, “What’s broke about [higher education] is not the delivery system, it’s the funding system. And, if you look over the past four years, we’ve made extensive cuts to higher education, and now we’re coming back with a blue ribbon commission that’s probably going to say at the end, ‘If you want to produce a quality system you’ve got to fund it.’ We’ve watered down the Higher Education Policy Commission, we’ve given it different goals and objectives and we’ve carved out the community college system, which I think was a critical mistake.”