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America, the SREB college completion initiative, and former
Governor JoeManchin’s Complete to Compete initiative as
chair of the National Governors Association. UnderManchin’s
leadership, significant focus was placed on college completion,
a policy realm that is a particularly large challenge forWest
Virginia, where the systemwide six-year college completion
rate is below 50 percent. In order to bring attention to the issue
and develop a clear plan for addressing it moving forward,
higher education leaders have developed a systemwide taskforce
that cuts across institutions and brings together business and
university leaders, facultymembers, K–12 representatives, and
students to identify barriers to completion and develop plans for
achieving the state’s goals.
The final area of the state’s public agenda, economic growth
and innovation, strikes to the core of the changing expectations
placed on our nation’s systemof postsecondary institutions.
As noted in a broad array of articles published by the National
Center for Public Policy andHigher Education, the success
of institutions will be determined by the extent to which they
serve as drivers of economic expansion, job creation and
human capital development. In order to remain competitive in
an increasingly diverse global marketplace, institutions must
strive to utilize the creative capacities of their faculty to drive
innovation, research and service to our communities.
As part ofWest Virginia’s efforts to implement the
economic imperatives of the public agenda, presidents from
across the systemworked in concert withmembers of their
respective governing boards to highlight the importance of
investing in applied science and research to stimulate economic
growth and job creation. Over a four year period, $60million
in state funding was secured for research via the Eminent
Scholars Recruitment and Enhancement initiative and the
“Bucks for Brains” Research Trust Fund. Each of the programs
requires institutional matches of state funds, thereby doubling
the impact of the initial state investments. Targeted toward the
state’s two research institutions, Marshall University andWest
Virginia University, these programs have assisted institutions
in their efforts to recruit scholars with demonstrated research
competitiveness in specialties that build on their core research
strengths.
In addition to these efforts, the commission, in conjunction
with the BattelleMemorial Institute, is working to redevelop
theWest Virginia Education, Research and Technology Park,
which served as the former international headquarters of the
Union Carbide Corporation.The Park serves as the backbone
of the state’s growing economic and community development
efforts and provides a venue through which the resources of the
institutions can be brought to bear in a collaborative manner
with regional industries to create new economy businesses in
West Virginia.
Contextual Issues—Impacting PolicyOutcomes
One of the items central to the development of the public
agenda inWest Virginia was the establishment of a shared
commitment among legislative, executive and external
constituencies for the goals of the public agenda. As the plan
evolved inWest Virginia, members of institutional governing
boards also became integral partners in the process. Key
legislation was passed in 2009 which required the professional
development of boardmembers as a
condition of service, provided an impetus
for partnerships across institutions, and
brought the influential voices of the boards
into the policy discourse.Through the
annual Board of Governors summit,
system leaders in conjunction with the staff
of the Association of Governing Boards
brought attention to critical elements of
the public agenda, such as completion
and cost efficiencies, as well as a deeper
sense of board responsibilities beyond the
confines of the individual institutions.The
importance of boards as active partners in
this policy journey cannot be overstated.
Despite the challenges facingWest Virginia, a higher
education policy strategy focused on critical areas of need and
cooperationwith other agencies has helped improve the outlook
for the future of the state.The state has been fortunate to have
economic stability in a time of severe national fiscal constraint,
but the challenges other states are facing has brought a keen
awareness on the part of higher education leaders and state
policymakers to be proactive about setting policy and program
strategies. In the end, the success of the public agenda inWest
Virginia can be traced to the fact that the state developed a plan,
worked the plan, and strategically aligned policy and legislative
initiatives to implement the plan. From small actions such as
adjusting the agenda of boardmeetings to alignwith the goals of
the plan, to linking staff performance reviews so that individual
performance connected to planning outcomes, the state has
placed an unwavering focus on the goals of the public agenda.
Conclusions
The paradox of American higher education is that while
the pressures on academe to serve as both the great social
equalizer and a vehicle for economic development have
increased, the economic commitment provided to the corpus
has decreased. Inmany states, funding for higher education
has declined significantly as a result of the Great Recession, a
trend that will only growmore troubling in the years to come.
Current economic pressures are forcing institutions to redefine
their missions and becomemore efficient in the delivery of
their services. While the demands on higher education are
increasing, the economic capacity to handle these demands is
decreasing.
The decades of shifting the funding responsibility away
from state appropriations and toward students’ resources have
not been the result of a well planned or thoughtful policy
discourse. Given the critical role that higher education plays as
a facilitator of human capital development, policymakers must
remain attentive to the diverse needs of all students requesting
access to postsecondary education. Unless careful and
deliberative attention is given to the establishment of a public
agenda for higher education that builds consensus and support
for its broad goals, the academy will continue to suffer a loss of
support in the American polity.
u
BrianNoland is chancellor of theWest Virginia Higher
Education Policy Commission.
U.S. Census data
demonstrate that
West Virginia has the
lowest percentage
of adults with a
bachelor’s degree in
the country.