By RYAN QUINN
After state lawmakers told them to come up with a funding formula proposal for their colleges, a couple of school presidents worried about competing for students with schools that have loose enrollment requirements.
But these weren't four-year college presidents talking about West Virginia's community colleges. It was the other way around.
Those community college presidents, alongside Community and Technical College System board Chairman Bob Brown, also noted that college credit offered by public high schools and vocational schools could affect their enrollment.
"We're now cannibalizing each other - K-12, community colleges and four-years," said Chuck Terrell, president of Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College.
"We have everybody doing everything," said Johnny M. Moore, president of Pierpont Community and Technical College.
Gov. Jim Justice has formed a "Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education," which he and his chief of staff said will examine college funding and sustainability. Justice's executive order creating the commission also said it will examine "the role and value" of the state Higher Education Policy Commission, which oversees four-year colleges. No similar panel for community colleges or their oversight agency, the CTCS, exists.
Asked last week why community colleges weren't included on the blue ribbon commission, Justice at first said, "I had my staff report to me the members to the commission as they saw fit I didn't select every name, you know, and so as far as representation of them, their representation is me because, literally, I'm not a proponent of closing, combining; I'm a proponent of making things better."
When pressed further on why the panel was only titled the "Blue Ribbon Commission on Four-Year Higher Education," Justice said, "I've got 14 people on that, Bray, go. I mean I'm giving you my answer."
"One of the things that was talked about," Justice senior adviser Bray Cary then told reporters, "was starting with this problem. Once this problem is figured out and worked on, then the two-years would be the next problem to look at. But you can't look at them all at the same time."
Justice's office has said the governor wants the panel's work completed by the December interim legislative meetings - the month before the start of the next regular legislative session.
The governor later suggested that community colleges would thrive if his ambitions to revive the furniture and coal industries come to fruition and "if China does really become a reality," referring to a possible $83.7 billion natural gas industry investment in the state.
During this year's legislative session, Justice backed providing free community college tuition but didn't publicly push free tuition for four-year colleges.
A recent report from the Colorado-based nonprofit National Center for Higher Education Management Systems focused on four-year schools, but it also discussed related issues regarding community colleges, which West Virginia lawmakers broke away from the four-year schools.
"The early 2000s governance changes resulted in a highly fragmented public higher education system: 20 public institutions (12 baccalaureate, 8 community and technical colleges) overseen by 22 governing boards and 20, often duplicative, administrative teams," the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems report said of West Virginia's system. "The legislative intent in the enactment of [Senate Bill] 653 in 2000 was that the newly independently accredited community colleges remain administratively linked to their previously regional institution host."
But the report said, "nevertheless, the community and technical colleges proceeded to establish their own administrative structures by the mid- to late-2000s. For the regional institutions - and the higher education system as a whole - this resulted in loss of intended economies-of-scale between the two sectors. The net effect has also been to systematically eliminate capacity to deal with issues in any collective way - every institution is left to cope with problems on its own."
"Generalizations about the impact of this change will inevitably ignore important differences across West Virginia," the report says of the establishment of independently accredited community colleges. "From the perspective of Fairmont State University, the changes resulted in a dysfunctional relationship between two entities attempting to share the same campus (Pierpont is the other entity). In other cases, the changes appear to have led to the development of new unsustainable community and technical colleges co-existing in the same regions with their former sponsoring regional universities increasingly at the risk of failure. In still other instances, the separation led to the establishment of community colleges effectively serving previously unserved workforce needs."
"I don't want to get into a whole lot of name-calling," Moore said when asked if he'd like to respond to the reference to his school. He said he did think he'd done a good job of delineating the mission of his community college from four-year schools.
"I believe the blue ribbon commission is going to be focusing on the 4-years, but I would hope that we would expand those discussions, eventually, and talk about the whole higher ed ecosystem in the state," Moore said.
Before talking about a funding formula, he said the state should be able to delineate.
"The West Virginia higher education system remains focused predominantly on bachelor's degree production," the report said. "The bachelor's degree focus of the [four-year] regional institutions could be a source of risk. Many of the jobs of today and in the future will not require a bachelor's degree, but a certificate or associate's degree in a workforce related field."
The report (for which NCHEMS was funded with $60,000 from the Pennsylvania-based Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, with up to $10,000 additionally for travel, according to NCHEMS' vice president) did say "the changes in the early 2000s to establish the West Virginia Community and Technical College System appear to have had a positive impact in terms of increasing the number of certificates produced."
The document also criticizes four-year schools for, it says, not developing strategies to help the "badly underserved" market for adults, whom community colleges have been serving more than recent high school graduates.
"The real competition is between the university system and the community colleges," said Pierpont Vice President for Finance and Administration Dale Bradley, who was allowed to interject into the June 4 conversation among community college presidents.
He mentioned four-year schools trying to benefit from offering dual enrollment and two-year degrees, which he said are traditionally the domain of community colleges. And he suggested a funding formula for community colleges shouldn't be developed without simultaneously considering structural issues.
"As funding models have declined, what's happened is it's a free for all for headcount and tuition dollars, and there's no clear definition within the state - we want these people to perform these roles and these to perform those roles," Bradley said. "There's a whole bunch of stuff that is the same that, without redefining that structure and clearly saying we don't have enough money to allow all these people to compete against each other, we need to focus those resources. It has to be kind of part of that discussion."
The meeting was supposed to focus on the funding formula. CTCS Chancellor Sarah Tucker eventually suggested a smaller committee discuss "a package of structural changes" that could be presented to the Legislature this year alongside the proposed formula.