West Virginia University at Parkersburg president speaks on college

This week we invited the new President of West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Dr. Chris Gilmer, to take over our column to share his insights since joining the community in early July. Thank you, Dr. Gilmer, and welcome to the Mid-Ohio Valley!

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When I was a young boy growing up on the dirt roads of Scott County, Mississippi, my family had a dream. They, not I, made that dream come true when I walked across the stage at East Central Community College as the first college graduate in my family. Poor dirt farmers with simple dreams for themselves and only their faith and earned good name to guide them, they wanted the world to open up for me.

I will never be able to thank them properly, so I try to live out the Bible verse my grandmother taught me: To whom much is given, of him or her is much required. Paying it forward for this generation and the next recently brought me to West Virginia as President of West Virginia University at Parkersburg, and I can honestly say I have loved every minute spent in my new home. Mississippi is called the Hospitality State, but genuine warmth and kindness have overflowed onto me since I arrived in “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.” I think Mississippi has some serious competition in the welcoming new neighbors category.

For my family and many families of that generation, the simple pride that came from one of their own breaking the glass ceiling of educational attainment was enough. Their primary goal wasn’t for me to get a job or to make more money, to help my family rise out of poverty and to give back to my community, although all of those things have been a welcomed byproduct. Their goal, pure and simple, was for me to have a right to earn something which they never got to earn, something no one would ever be able to take away from me-education.

For families today while the sentiment of my grandparents still holds true, the argument we in higher education must make is based more on economics. A college education is not inexpensive; will it pay for itself over time? A college education is a big investment of time and energy which can temporarily delay entering the work force; again, will it pay for itself over time? A college education is a more common accomplishment even in rural, working class families like mine than it was 25 or 50 years ago; is it still as special as it was then?

The answer to all of these questions is “yes,” and I can prove it.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 88 percent of Americans hold high school diplomas or GED certificates, while 33 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree and 12 percent have earned an advanced college degree. Students with a high school diploma or equivalent earn on average $35,256 per year. Add an associate’s degree from your local college and earn $41,496 per year. Add to that a bachelor’s degree and earn $59,124 per year. For those with a master’s degree, their annual earnings average increases to $69,743, and for those with a professional degree, to $89,960.

Of course, statistics can often be used to prove points in both directions and vary considerably based on many factors including geography. These statistics are reflective of national trends, not individual cases.

Even so, it’s hard to argue with the value of earning almost one million extra dollars over the course of a 40-year career by earning a bachelor’s degree, especially when certificates, associate’s and bachelor’s degrees are so inexpensive at WVU Parkersburg when compared to other institutions.

According to a recent study conducted at Georgetown University, 97 percent of “good jobs,” those with median wages in the upper one-third in their occupation classification created nationally since the economic recovery, went to people with at least a bachelor’s degree. With less than one-third of West Virginians holding an associate’s degree or higher, West Virginia’s Climb has been launched to equip more people in our state with the training and skills necessary to land those high-paying jobs. The goal of the program is to equip 60 percent of West Virginians with a certificate or degree by 2030 because 60 percent of working-aged West Virginians will need a certificate or degree in order to meet future workforce demands. Take a look at more statistics on their website: wvclimb.com.

Let me share a few statistics about your own hometown college, WVU Parkersburg:

Last year we awarded 209 certificates, 263 associate’s degrees, and 227 bachelor’s degrees. That includes an increase in the number of certificates by 125 percent in only one year. We have the highest success rate in college level English and math courses within the first year among all West Virginia community colleges. Our retention rate is at 76 percent, an all-time high.

Our surgical technology program is fully enrolled for fall 2018 after being dormant. We offer many resources to our students such as tutoring, counseling, career planning, public transportation, and on-site childcare. Fifty-two programs of study are available for credit with many additional community enrichment programs. Students can start a degree with us and save up to $27,000 by completing the first one or two years here before guaranteed admission to WVU or transfer to other schools, or you can complete among the most affordable academic programs in West Virginia here on our campus without ever leaving home. We are fully and independently accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, and Ohio residents also pay in-state tuition.

Come visit me and let me show you our new state-of-the-art nursing lab, crime scene lab, mock courtroom, or Entrepreneurship Center, just to spotlight a few of our many recent upgrades.

In closing, I am living the destiny my family dreamed for me and paid the price for me to live. What about you or your children or your grandchildren? At WVU Parkersburg, we are ready to help you and yours live into your very best dreams.

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Visit this space every other Sunday for more Chamber news. We also invite you to call us at 304-422-3588, email us at info@movchamber.org, or stop by the Chamber office at 501 Avery Street, 9th Floor in Parkersburg.

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Chris Gilmer, Ph.D., is the president of West Virginia University at Parkersburg.

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