Aspiring college students in southern West Virginia will soon have one facility that will allow them access to courses at eight colleges.
The newly built Public Higher Education Center will open its doors Aug. 20 in Beckley. Dubbed a higher education mall, the facility will be the first of its kind in West Virginia.
By putting satellite offices of various state schools under one roof, center director Tom Acker says costs and confusion will be minimized.
“If students have to reside at a campus in order to get courses, it adds another five to six thousand dollars a year to the cost of college,” he says. “By developing this educational mall that will serve four different counties, students can drive there and get an education but not have the cost of living on campus.”
Students can enroll in classes from New River Community and Technical College, Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College, West Virginia University Institute of Technology, WVU Extension Service, WVU Tech Community and Technical College, Bluefield State College, Concord University and Marshall University.
The students will align themselves with one campus they intend to pursue a degree from, but if they take classes from other schools, they can later apply to have those credits transferred.
James Skidmore, the community and technical college education commissioner for the Higher Education Policy Commission, says the new center’s southern West Virginia location is ideal.
“When you look at the college-going rates of that area, they’re lower than the state as a whole and there’s a tremendous need for higher education in the Beckley area, at all levels — community, baccalaureate and graduate,” he says.
The school is based on models from other states, and Skidmore has visited a similar center in Greenville, S.C. The prototype for the higher education mall was first developed in Michigan about 20 years ago.
The school was constructed through a confluence of influence: The land for the school was donated by Beaver Coal; U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd helped appropriate $10 million for its construction and development; U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall helped secure $750,000 to build the access road; then-state House of Representatives Speaker Bob Kiss helped to secure $2 million in bonds for equipment; and the Appalachian Regional Commission gave a $500,000 grant for technology equipment.
Bluefield State College President Albert Walker says he thinks the school will appeal to students because of its convenient location off I-64. Nursing and radiology courses will be offered through Bluefield State at the PHEC — and that’s in response to demand.
“We’ve been in the Beckley area for a number of years and know the supply and demand of nurses, so we definitely need nurses and need people in radiology,” Walker says.
“We’re trying to meet the needs of the state with this.”
– Associated Press
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