The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 12, 2013

Community colleges focus on student retention

CHARLESTON — The chancellor of West Virginia’s community college system says nearly two-thirds of the students in the system aren’t ready for college-level work and must take developmental courses.

Chancellor James Skidmore told a joint interim meeting of the West Virginia House and Senate Education Committees on Monday that those students who are forced to take developmental courses “very seldom graduate.”

Some community colleges have begun offering short two- to three-week summer courses. The goal is to get students up to college level by the time regular classes start in the fall.

Skidmore said that the state’s community colleges have shifted their focus toward college completion — with the focus now on graduating more students rather than enrolling more students.

Paul L. Hill, the chancellor of the state’s higher education policy commission, told the committee that less than 40 percent of West Virginia students entering college will graduate within six years. Nearly 35 percent of students who enroll in West Virginia colleges will drop out before the start of their sophomore year.

One factor in declining retention rates is the rising cost of higher education.

In-state tuition at West Virginia University has risen by 88 percent since 2002, according to the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. At the same time, state support for higher education has plummeted. In 2002, state funds covered an average of 60 percent of the cost of full-time tuition at West Virginia public colleges and universities. In 2011, that number had dropped to just over 34 percent.

Among 15 Southern states, only South Carolina provides less funding per full-time student than West Virginia.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has asked most state agencies, exempting some, to submit budgets for fiscal year 2014 with 7.5 percent reductions from the previous year. That will mean more than $24 million in cuts from the state’s higher education system.

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