Blog Posts > West Virginia’s Cuts to Higher Education Are Shortchanging Future Generations

West Virginia’s Cuts to Higher Education Are Shortchanging Future Generations

Written by Caitlin Cook on October 4, 2018

For Immediate Release
Media ContactsCaitlin Cook (304) 543-4879, WVCBP or
Jacob Kaufman-Waldron, (202) 325-8746, CBPP
(Charleston, WV) – West Virginia’s inadequate public investment in higher education over the last decade has contributed to rising tuition prices, often leaving students with little choice but to take on more debt or give up on their dreams of going to college, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report released today. The problem is especially serious for Black and low-income students.
The Mountain State is one of 45 states thatspent less per student in the 2018 school year than in 2008 – even as the economy and most state budgets have returned to pre-recession levels, according to Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
2008 – 2018 Cuts to Higher Education Funding
(adjusted for inflation): 
  • West VirginiaAverage: 26 percent per student or $2,370 per student
  • U.S. Average: 16 percent per student or $1,502 per student
Cuts to higher education have helped drive up the cost of attending public colleges and universities. Between 2008 and 2018, the average tuition at public four-year institutions in West Virginia grew by 51.4 percent, or $2,677 – outpacing the national average growth of 36 percent.
“Pushing the cost of a college education onto students and their families will not make our state stronger,” said Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “Only by adequately investing in higher education will we be able to create a in which everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”
Americans’ slow income growth has worsened the situation. While the average tuition bill increased by 36 percent between 2008 and 2018, median incomes grew by just over two percent. Nationally, the average tuition at a four-year public college accounted for 16.5 percent of median household income in 2017, up from 14 percent in 2008.
In West Virginia, a college education is even less affordable, especially for Black families. In 2017, the average tuition and fees at a public four-year university accounted for:
  • 16.5 percent of median household income for all West Virginia families
  • 25 percent of median household income for Black West Virginia families
“The rising cost of college risks blocking one of America’s most important paths to economic mobility. And while these costs hinder progress for everyone, Black, Latinx, and low-income students continue to face the most significant barriers to opportunity,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at CBPP and lead author of the report.
Federal and state financial aid has failed to bridge the gap created by rising tuition and relatively stagnant incomes. As a result, the share of students graduating with debt has risen. Between the 2008 and 2015 school years, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year institution rose from 55 percent to 59 percent nationally. The average amountof debt also increased during this period. On average, bachelor’s degree recipients at four-year public schools saw their debt grow by 26 percent (from $21,226 to $27,000).By contrast, the average amount of debt rose by only about one percent in the six years prior to the recession. West Virginia has the highest student loan default rate in the country.
A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers. Sufficient public investment in higher education would help the Mountain State develop the skilled and diverse workforce it needs to match the jobs of the future.
West Virginia has ignored these long-term economic demands, instead directing public resources to tax cuts for businesses that have failed to produce the promised job growth. Policymakers can no longer meet these long-term economic demands by making marginal investments in the public colleges, teachers and students that are already set up to success. The state must instead pursue meaningful investments in the schools and students that stand to gain the most.
“To succeed in tomorrow’s economy, states must strengthen their future workforce by investing today in higher education,” said Mitchell.
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