West Virginia State Denounces Community College Plan
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia lawmakers passed a controversial higher education reform bill last month despite protests from administrators, faculty and students at a historically Black college who contended the measure could doom their school.
The new law stirred dissent because it would have created a statewide community college system in part by ripping away existing two-year programs at four-year universities. The bill also overhauls governance and state funding for higher education.
West Virginia State College students and staff denounced the plan in a demonstration at the Capitol last month.
Officials with West Virginia State contended that efforts to remove their community college programs were discriminatory and further evidence of what they see as an ongoing attempt to destroy the historically Black institution.
The university’s president, Dr. Hazo W. Carter, complains that the consultants who drafted the study upon which the bill was based never visited any of West Virginia’s colleges or universities and never talked to top college administrators.
“We have done an outstanding job and been very responsive to community college education here at West Virginia State,” Carter says. “We have been offering associate’s degrees since the mid-1950s. Someone didn’t gather all the facts.”
Losing its two-year students would have been a major blow for the college; 25 percent of its associate’s-degree students are enrolled in a.d. programs. It also would have contributed to what critics view as a concerted effort to weaken West Virginia State.
Congress designated West Virginia State a land-grant institution in 1890, conferring special privileges and funding upon it. But state officials surrendered that status in 1956 and channeled all land-grant funds to West Virginia University.
In the 1990s, state lawmakers allowed the West Virginia College of Graduate Studies, housed on the West Virginia State campus, to merge with Marshall University and build new digs in South Charleston. That meant the loss of some shared faculty, staff and resources.
In a recent column in the Charleston Gazette, David Wohl, West Virginia State’s dean of arts and humanities, called the recent efforts to yank the institution’s community college programs “racist.”
He suggested that the consultants and state lawmakers might “have an agenda that seeks to isolate West Virginia State College … by eliminating its community college mission, a mission that has endured for decades.”
In addition, losing its community college programs would have forced West Virginia State to drop its open-admissions policy, which it has used to help prepare the state’s neediest students for a college education.
The plan was outlined in a state-commissioned study of West Virginia’s higher education system.
Legislators partially caved in to pressure from supporters of West Virginia State College and several other four-year institutions that have boasted strong two-year programs for more than 25 years by postponing a decision on the new two-year system.
The new law still calls for West Virginia to establish a freestanding network of public community colleges. But that process won’t begin for another year, at which time a state panel will review all existing two-year programs and decide if they should be folded into the new community college system.
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