West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 78

Paul Hill Chancellor, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission WVE: Tell us about the trends you are currently seeing in public higher education. PH: We are seeing a fall in the number of high schoolaged students—and, therefore, graduates—and an increase in adult learners over the age of 25 who are returning to college. Currently, we have nearly 200,000 West Virginians who have some college but no degree; therefore, outreach to this population and the changing job markets have brought a growing number of these individuals back into postsecondary education. The changing economics and markets have also demonstrated the greater need for education or training beyond high school with a projected 51 percent of all jobs in West Virginia requiring such education by 2018. We’re seeing the greatest numbers of graduates in health care and business comprising the leading job trends in West Virginia. WVE: How is the fast-paced evolution of technology changing education, and what kind of impact is it having? PH: Technology is changing higher education in many ways, with the most obvious being online education and degree programs. West Virginia’s institutions are providing a number of these opportunities that complement the on-campus experience in a blended learning environment. The benefits may seem obvious with less reliance on the upkeep of brick-and-mortar institutions, but a word of caution: not all students fare well in these environments. Only highly motivated, well-prepared students will persist, and the drop-out rates of MOOCs demonstrate this fact. Technology is also changing how we do business as institutions of higher education. The ability to collect and analyze large amounts of information for both policy development and public consumption is providing new ways of responding to issues from financial support to course offerings. 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? PH: Our history as a state and our traditional industries have been a huge driver of the perception that a college degree was not necessary to get a good-paying job. While it was certainly historically true that high school graduates could find jobs paying up to $70,000 right out of high school, that is no longer the case. While demand has increased nationwide for college graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the demand for high school graduates in the work force has declined. In 2012, the nationwide work force had 14 percent fewer workers with a high school diploma than in 1989, while the number of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher nearly doubled. The perception 78 west virginia executive that college was not necessary has driven down attainment levels, even though it is no longer true. A Georgetown University study projects a need for 20,000 additional graduates—above the current production of 17,000 of public two- and four-year schools—just to keep West Virginia’s economy operating at its current level. The other major factor is an aging population. It’s not that West Virginia hasn’t been educating its population—our collegegoing rate has been at or near the national level of 63 percent; it’s that older, less mobile West Virginians now make up a major segment of the population. We are reaching out to encourage more students to attend college and gain a degree through such programs as the PROMISE Scholarship, West Virginia Higher Education Grant, the College Foundation of West Virginia and West Virginia GEAR UP. These are financial, online and social support programs that help more students prepare for, pay for and attend a college or university in West Virginia. The commission is also focusing on completion efforts for those who enter a degree program to ensure greater numbers actually graduate. At the heart of our new five-year master plan for higher education, policies that support counseling, degree mapping, mentoring and appropriate course loads are focused on assisting students throughout their postsecondary experience. WVE: What is the key to getting West Virginia students to stay in West Virginia after they graduate college? PH: The changing economic market is already attracting more students to jobs here at home, with new data showing that 70 percent of all PROMISE scholars were still employed in West Virginia seven years after obtaining their undergraduate degrees. As opportunities diversify, the trend for all students has shown a steady increase of entering in-state jobs. With the expansion of natural gas resources and Governor Tomblin’s efforts to attract major industries to the state through Project ASCENT, we are likely to see this trend continue. WVE: What role does the recruitment of out-of-state and international students play in your plans, and why are these students important to your schools and to the state? PH: Non-resident students already play an important role in helping to brand the state, what it has to offer and, potentially, their retention in the work force. Again, our tuition rates are low and serve as an attraction to these students. Certainly, international students are playing an increasing role and, under an initiative by the commission, will play an even greater role in the future. We have always emphasized the globally-educated student, but by increasing the number of international students recruited to West Virginia, we address many factors, including the competitiveness of ideas, sharing of perspectives with our domestic students and increased diversity of our student body. By one estimate, international students spend as much as a quarter-million dollars on obtaining a degree in the United States, but their value to our system in providing a global educational experience for all students goes well beyond this.