WVU-P expands student count

West Virginia University at Parkersburg Executive Vice President Alice Harris informs the Board of Governors Wednesday of a new program that will count people who attend classes for job training as students. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — Everyone who takes a class at West Virginia University at Parkersburg will be considered a student, whether in a degree program or taking a class to obtain job skills, officials said Wednesday.

WVU-P President Chris Gilmer told the school’s Board of Governors that a task force has been working at the school to explore ways to grant academic credit and officially count students enrolled in workforce skills and short-term programs that are currently offered as non-credit programs. This work was started at the request of West Virginia Chancellor for Community and Technical College Education Sarah Tucker.

”The work is being piloted at WVU Parkersburg and will likely result in credit for significant increases in enrollment,” Gilmer said. ”If you set foot on this campus and you register for any kind of class, you are a student.”

Executive Vice President Alice Harris said she was given the task of doing this work at WVUP and then tell the rest of the state’s Community College System how to implement it.

”We have been ingrained in an old way of thinking of how we define students,” Harris said. ”We only defined and record students who are degree seeking.”

In the initial meetings of her task force, the question was posed about why it was important to give a student .25 academic credit hours or six academic credit hours if they are not seeking a degree.

”The answer is, for community and technical colleges the mission is so important to meet those workforce skill needs that if we don’t report that, we are only giving a partial picture of the impact we are having in our service area,” Harris said. ”This is what makes us unique in our service area.”

Harris said these skill programs are something four-year institutions do not offer.

”This not only attracts students to us, but also local businesses,” Harris said.

Students will receive academic credit for any classes they take at WVUP which can be transferred over if students decide they want to go on and earn a degree.

Harris said they had to translate these credits into a form that could be reviewed by legislative auditors and integrated into the Banner system used by universities to track academic credit hours, do registering work and register grades.

WVUP will have to make adjustments to its Banner system to accommodate this new system of tracking credit hours, Gilmer said. The school has already made the adjustments and did not encounter any problems, he added.

Officials said they may need to hire a person to handle additional work from this.

”We had to figure out a way we were going to get it in there and keep track of it,” Harris said of taking the contact hours for these programs and converting them into academic credit.

During the last year, WVUP worked with 217 local employers and had 1,287 students in workforce skill development classes. That resulted in 26,772 contact hours which would be converted to as much as 1,785 academic credit hours, Harris said.

These amounts will give policymakers a clearer picture of what the university does in considering funding and other needs.

Gilmer said school officials have gotten the university near the break-even point in overall enrollment for Spring 2019 compared to Spring 2018.

Over the past few years, the university has seen declines and is getting more students enrollments.

The school needs to recruit seven more students to break even on headcount and 47 full-time equivalent students to break even, Gilmer said.

”I am very pleased with this,” he said.

Gilmer said an Emsi community impact survey, based on 2017 data, found WVUP had a $221.5 million impact on the area which is equal to 3.4 percent of the total gross regional product of the service area. The report also highlights that over a 30-year period the difference in earning potential with a bachelor’s degree from WVUP versus only a high school diploma is $589,500.

”For every $1 invested in WVU Parkersburg, the taxpayers of West Virginia will see $13.40 in benefits,” Gilmer said.