West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 77

Ben Exley, IV Executive Director, West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities WVE: Tell us about the trends you are currently seeing in private higher education. BE: In April of 2013, Hart Research Associates interviewed 318 organizations with 25 or more employees. Ninety-three percent of them cited that they are looking for job candidates with a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and, most importantly, solve complex problems. Nine in 10 required that the candidate demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills and the capacity for new learning. This is exactly what the eight member schools of the WVICU are continuing to provide their students through a liberal arts education in addition to a strong major area of study. WVE: How is the fast-paced evolution of technology changing education, and what kind of impact is it having? BE: Technology is one of the driving forces contributing to the transformation of higher education. Despite its obvious appeal and comfort level to students, technology also presents challenges. Academic planners are always playing catch-up to the speed of newer technological improvements, administrators are concerned about the price tags of staying current and the training of faculty and staff continues to require vigilance and oversight. With the introduction of MOOC, or massive online open courses, in 2012, technology changed the playing field for students who want to use hybrid models of mixing and matching their learning interests. While West Virginia’s private colleges and universities offer special niches for personalized attention, we must be vigilant of and proactive toward the changing needs of student learners. Technology will remain a major player for the foreseeable future. WVE: West Virginia has one of the lowest graduation rates and rates for degree completion in the country. What are the drivers behind these problems, and what is being done to address them? BE: Approximately 36 percent, or 3,200, of our students are the first of any generation in their family to attend a college or university. Nationally, the six-year graduation rate for these students is 70 percent. First generation students thrive at our member colleges and universities due to a low student-to-faculty ratio of 13 to 1 and the nurturing they receive. In addition, the WVICU Circle of Vision Scholarship program, funded by personal, corporate and foundation contributions, supports more than 50 West Virginia students per year at WVICU’s eight member colleges and universities. These students are motivated, have financial need and graduate on time. We now have graduates from the program working and living in West Virginia. WVE: What would you say are the biggest challenges in education today? BE: One of the challenges in our education system today is convincing parents and potential college students that earning a college degree is still important and valuable. There has been increasing skepticism and vocal negativity regarding higher education among politicians, high-visibility spokespeople and some media. A report released June 24, 2014 by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York addressed confusion of the college debt bandwagon conversation and the long-term advantages of a college degree. They calculated the costs of college, wages lost by being in college and earnings after college compared to high school grads going directly into the work force. The return on a college investment has been about 15 percent higher per year over the last decade. Bachelor’s degree holders earn $2.9 million between entering the work force and age 64, compared with less than $1.8 million for high school graduates. And we all know the value of a college experience goes far beyond just economics. A second challenge is convincing the public that higher education is truly affordable, both in public and private sectors. A recent article in The Atlantic reported that the average net price of a bachelor’s degree is, on average, 55 percent lower than sticker price. Our West Virginia private institutions are extremely diligent when it comes to providing a strong academic and co-curricular experience at a price that is affordable to each family. We need to do a better job in West Virginia at getting this message to families who may not be familiar with financial aid opportunities. WVE: What is the key to getting West Virginia students to stay in the Mountain State after they graduate college? BE: One key opportunity for both students and all organizations, particularly in West Virginia, is student internships. Internships within all types of real-world settings lead to success and growth for both the student and the organization. More West Virginia students will remain in the state as the number of graduates increase each year. This, along with a receptive business climate, will make us more attractive to growing businesses and will create startup opportunities. WVE: What challenges do independent and private colleges face that public institutions do not? BE: While you might expect me to say that we do not receive funding from the state via taxpayers, the major challenge that affects our enrollment and costs is perception. The major misperception is affordability. The National Center for Education Statistics reported in a 2013 study that 26 percent of students at four-year, nonprofit colleges graduated with no debt. The median total debt for graduates of four-year public colleges and universities was $22,625 compared to $27,000 at the independent schools, a difference of slightly more than $1,000 per year. The average amount of financial aid given per year by independent colleges and universities was $14,826 compared to $4,765 for their public counterparts. We need to work on that perception. www.wvexecutive.com summer 2014 77