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to reframe and restructure the state’s complement of financial
aid programs. West Virginia has historically demonstrated
a strong commitment to financial aid; the state ranks fifth
nationally according to a recent NASGAAP survey of grant
aid per full-time equivalent student. While the state has a rich
complement of need- andmerit-based aid programs, it faced
mounting cost and demand pressures at the onset of themaster
planning process that placed the sustainability of the largest aid
programs in jeopardy. Given the integral role of financial aid
as a support structure for the public agenda, higher education
leaders worked vigorously with elected officials to restructure
these programs and protect and promote the goals of student
access and affordability. Facedwith escalating cost pressures
in themerit-based financial aid program—the PROMISE
scholarship—higher education led a series of reformefforts that
restructured the program, yielding both additional funding and
programmatic stability, thereby negating the annual need to
raise academic eligibility standards tomaintain budget solvency.
By forging a partnershipwith legislative leadership, higher
educationwas able to build support for the programmatic
goals of PROMISE, as well as the need for increased funding to
support the public agenda. As a result, over the course of five
consecutive legislative sessions significant annual improvements
have beenmade to the state’s financial aid programs, withmore
than $20million in new revenues appropriated to support
student access and affordability. Furthermore, during the 2011
legislative session, additional need-based aid funding was
provided to offset potential declines in the federal Pell grant
program.
Once these structural changes weremade to the aid
programs, the next step in the implementation of the access
goals of the public agenda was the simplification
of the college application process. In order to
ensure that students and families were aware of
financial aid opportunities, the state launched
and intensivelymarketed a one-stopweb-portal
that provided information on planning, applying
and paying for college. Modeled after a similar
effort inNorth Carolina, the College Foundation
ofWest Virginia (CFWV) was launched in
October 2009. Funded through a seed grant
from the legislature, CFWV enables middle
school students, high school students and adults
to explore college and career options, apply to
college, and find financial aid.
In addition to the traditional students
who enroll in college after high school, policy
attentionwas also given to the 173,000 adults
in the state with some college but no degree.
In conjunctionwith institutional leaders
and ShepherdUniversity President Suzanne
Shipley, chair of the system’s Council of Presidents, the RBA
Today initiative was launched.Through direct marketing of
the program to adults who had completed 60 or more hours
of credit but did not complete their degree, RBAToday (which
enhances the state’s existing Regents Bachelor of Arts program)
has provided a flexible and accelerated degree alternative that
supports the broad public agenda goal of diversifying the state’s
workforce.
In addition to the items noted above, the systemhas been
active in its pursuit of federal and external grant opportunities.
Rather than piecemeal federal programs such as GEARUP
and the College Access Challenge Grant, the state worked to
coordinate activities under a unified planning structure via
theWest Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s
Division of Student Success and P–20 initiatives. In concert
with institution staff, the commission has deepened its outreach
efforts to underserved communities and strengthened its policy
relationships with our P–20 partners.
The second area of emphasis within the state’s public
agenda focused on cost and affordability. Likemany states,
West Virginia has struggled to protect affordability in an era of
fluid state support. Over the past two decades, the landscape of
funding for higher education has been characterized by rising
costs, shrinking public appropriations, and an increased hostility
to the tuition increases that inevitably follow. With a systemic
budget malaise that often prevented policymakers from
looking beyond short-term solutions to long-termproblems,
policymakers yearned for more effective education and fiscal
policy.This tensionwas ultimatelymitigatedwith the passage
of Senate Bill 595 in 2008, which called for higher education to
develop and implement the finance and accountability goals
inherent within “Charting the Future.”This legislation cemented
the partnership between the legislature and higher education,
as both entities worked in concert to develop policies that
contained incentives linked to the goals of the public agenda
such as college completion, degree production, and increasing
the enrollment rates of adult students.
As a result of these efforts, higher education was better
positioned to provide the legislature with a series of data-driven
benchmarks to assess performance, as well as to articulate the
need for sustained investments to promote the competitive
health of the system.The creation of a unified finance policy
clarified the inherent link between state support and student-
generated revenues and demonstrated that, absent state
appropriations, fee increases may be needed to protect the
core components of the public agenda. Such increases were
avoided in the short termas the systemwas able to successfully
negotiate with the governor and legislative leaders amulti-year
commitment to hold higher education harmless frombudget
reductions, in return for concurrently freezing tuition and fees
for the 2010-11 academic year.
The third area of emphasis within the state’s public agenda
is the focus on student learning and accountability. A key part
of our focus in this area has been to deepen the alignment
across both the secondary and postsecondary levels of our
education system. Such P–20 efforts are centered upon
curricula alignment, early identification of college readiness,
early remediation of academic deficiencies while students
are enrolled in high school, and enhanced professional
development via faculty exchanges. To support these objectives,
the commission developed a series of report cards for parents,
students, policymakers and the general public that demonstrate
the quality and performance of public higher education.
These reports address numerous accountability indicators
such as academic preparation, participation, affordability,
educational outcomes, and staffing. Much of this work formed
the foundation of the state’s participation inComplete College
West Virginia
is among those
states with the
lowest levels of
postsecondary
educational
attainment and the
highest number of
underrepresented
students.