Representatives from 17 states gathered in Charleston recently to discuss ways of increasing the number of people who obtain college degrees. Though West Virginia is the host, our state has a much higher mountain to climb than those facing most other participants.
West Virginia has what can only be described as a dismal record in regard to higher education. One estimate is that only 28 percent of state residents age 25-34 hold college degrees. That places us at the very bottom of the 17-state consortium that met in Charleston.
Simply getting West Virginians to college is a challenge. Frankly, too many parents in our state do not understand the importance of higher education. In today's economy - and even more so as the 21st century progresses - some sort of higher education is virtually essential if young people are to enjoy good standards of living.
That is important to the state as a whole, obviously. Our economy suffers because of the relatively large number of under-educated people in West Virginia.
But simply convincing young people to go to college - and helping them pay for it - is only part of the challenge here.
Another statistic is disturbing: Of young West Virginians who begin college, only 44.3 percent graduate with bachelor's degrees within six years. Only nine other states have lower graduation rates.
A variety of factors are to blame. One, of course, is the number of the state's college freshmen who are not prepared adequately for higher education. Unfortunately, in many cases, their schools, public and private, have not been adequate to get them ready for the rigors of college.
There are other concerns, among them whether West Virginia institutions of higher learning do a good job in nurturing new students. Some progress has been made in that regard; more is needed.
Participating in the 17-state effort to increase the number of students who earn college degrees is just a first step for West Virginia. Again, our first step is being taken much lower down on the mountain. That needs to be recognized, and West Virginians need to realize that difficult decisions must be made to address the challenge.