College Costs

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said this week he believes his institution’s relationship with WVU-Parkersburg represents a “compelling opportunity.” The two schools have shared little more than a name and logo for the past few years, but, as Gee digs in to his new role as leader of the flagship institution of higher learning in the state, perhaps that will change.

Gee said WVU’s intent is to remain “very close” to the college here in Parkersburg, but that the jury is still out as to how that relationship might be structured. In light of other comments Gee made regarding rising tuition costs, increased student debt and a desire to create the most efficient, effective university possible, perhaps he will take a look at creating a much deeper relationship with WVU-P, and other schools like it.

WVU could benefit tremendously from the cultivation of feeder schools. Should WVU-P have the ability to promise its students they could, for example, begin a four-year degree in a subject for which WVU-P does not yet offer a major, and have every credit transfer to WVU so the student did not waste time and effort in obtaining his or her degree, it would go a long way toward decreasing the cost and risk of dropout for students who find the attempt so difficult, now.

Across the country, students are increasingly enrolling in community colleges or schools closer to their homes – for which they will not have to initially pay room and board. Both WVU and WVU-P could capitalize on such a trend by encouraging students to begin their academic careers in one and continue in another. WVU might even consider offering a fast track to graduate studies for students who receive their bachelor’s degrees at WVU-P.

In discussing the financial burden on students, Gee said “A lot of student debt comes from a lot of students enrolling, borrowing money, then dropping out.” He suggested the need for a “dean of completion,” in addition to WVU’s dean of admissions.

Such a dean might begin his or her work by examining the advantage students receive when they start their academic careers in an environment such as WVU-P’s, with the confidence they can seamlessly transition to another institution of higher learning if they desire. That partnership would go a long way toward achieving Gee’s goals of “improving our own effectiveness and efficiency,” helping students be better stewards of their finances, and serving the state of West Virginia.