West Virginia University is currently facing a $45 million budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, expected to balloon to $75 million annually by 2028. During this year’s State of the University address, WVU President Gordon Gee pointed to several factors driving the shortfall including declining college-aged population, lower college-going rates, and rising financial costs. But one major factor was glaringly missing: deeply reduced state funding for colleges and universities. In fact, if West Virginia lawmakers had simply kept higher education funding at the same levels as a decade ago, West Virginia University would have an estimated additional $37.6 million in state funding for FY 2024, closing the majority of this year’s budget gap.
We’ve previously analyzed the decline of higher education as a priority in the state budget. Over the last decade, state higher education funding is down by about a quarter, adjusted for inflation. Over the same period, the value of the Promise Scholarship has eroded, going from a scholarship covering the full cost of in-state tuition at a public college or university to a fixed block grant that covers just 63 percent of tuition on average.
While students and families have long felt the impacts on tuition of reduced public investments in higher education, federal pandemic relief temporarily cushioned colleges and universities from some of the broader institutional impacts. As those federal funds are drying up, state funding austerity is fully in view.
Nowhere have the impacts been more visible than at West Virginia University, where the administration plans to layoff faculty, eliminate programs, and implement a host of other cost reduction measures in response to the projected budget shortfall. But far fewer of these measures would be necessary if state funding for colleges and universities had simply been maintained at the same levels as a decade ago.
In 2013, WVU’s General Administrative Funding out of the state general revenue budget totaled $130.8 million out of a total higher education funding allotment of $456.1 million. A decade later, total higher education funding is essentially unchanged despite growing costs at $455.8 million. WVU’s General Administration Funding is $116.5 million — a reduction in nominal funding compared with FY 2013 that balloons to a $37.6 million gap when adjusting for inflation.
Between FY 2013 and 2024, overall higher education funding in the state’s general revenue budget has declined by 24.3 percent, or $146.2 million, adjusting for inflation. Had state higher education allotments remained at the same level as a decade ago, simply keeping up with inflation, the total higher education investment for FY 2024 would be $602 million and WVU would have received around $154.1 million in General Administration Funding.
Put simply, West Virginia University would have an estimated additional $37.6 million in state funding for FY 2024 had state funds remained at the same level as a decade ago, closing more than four-fifths of the expected $45 million budget gap. 
Declining college population alone does not explain the budget crisis. In 2022, West Virginia’s education appropriations per full-time equivalent were nearly $3,000 below the national average. An analysis from State Higher Education Finance (SHEF) found that over the last few decades, West Virginia’s public colleges and universities have increasingly had to rely on tuition as a share of total revenues as state funding has declined — a national trend that has been even more dire in West Virginia. Between 1980 and 2022, colleges and universities nationwide doubled their reliance on tuition, on average, going from 21 percent to 42 percent of total revenue collected via student tuition. Over that same period, West Virginia’s public institutions tripled their reliance on tuition, going from receiving 19 percent of their total revenue from tuition to 56 percent.
Our state’s colleges and universities play many important roles in our communities and our local economy. They provide the education many West Virginians need to get good jobs and provide for their families. And the colleges and universities themselves provide good-paying jobs for the local community. West Virginia University is the largest employer in Monongalia County and the largest university in the state. Layoffs will impact families and the local economy greatly—not just the families employed there but those who benefit from WVU staff and faculty participating in their communities and spending money at local shops and retailers. The erosion of state funding for higher education has sweeping harmful impacts, and the tax cuts enacted in 2023 could only exacerbate austerity in the state budget, which means the tax cuts will likely hurt our economy rather than helping it.
For more information on the broader cost of disinvestment in higher education, check out this infographic.
 WVCBP analysis of WV State Budget Office and Bureau for Labor Statistics data. Methodology for determining FY 2013 inflation-adjusted WVU funding comes from inflation-adjusting FY 2013 total higher education revenues and allocating 25.6 percent of total funding to WVU’s General Administrative fund, which is the proportion of total higher education funding WVU received in the enrolled FY 2024 budget. “WVU General Administration Funding” includes WV budget line items West Virginia University, Jackson’s Mill, WVU Institute of Technology, Brownfields Professional Development, WVU Land Grant Match, Energy Express, and WVU Potomac. 2023 inflation-adjusted figures compare FY 2013 allocations with inflation-adjusted values from January 2012 and January 2023.
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