It’s the time of year for college students across the country to enroll for spring semester classes. How many parents and students are rethinking the decision to attend college away from home amid the pandemic?   

With a little research, I learned that even before Covid-19, college and admissions counselors were reporting a surging interest in students who want to stay closer to home. Being close to home offers newer students a higher degree of support. Having friends, family and familiarity close at hand can make a big difference in the success of those critical first years of college.

There are also financial benefits to attending a community college close to home. Smaller schools have less overhead and are generally more affordable for local students. State and federal grants, scholarship dollars and in-state tuition rates are ways for area students to save money.

This is good news for southern West Virginia. The Chamber of Commerce serves nine local colleges and universities as part of our member organization: Appalachian Bible College, Bluefield State College, Bridge Valley Community and Technical College, Concord University, New River Community and Technical College, Southern WV Community and Technical College, University of Charleston, Valley College and West Virginia University Institute of Technology. 

These institutions provide many opportunities including two-year degrees, four-year degrees and master’s programs. Starting here in southern West Virginia and going anywhere can be a smart move. State credits can transfer to other state schools if a student decides to transfer to a bigger school later. And while at a smaller school, students have an opportunity to do research as an undergraduate student.

WVU Tech is ranked by U.S. News and World Report in the top 100 in the nation for undergraduate engineering programs. Engineering graduates have an overall employment and graduate study rate of 96 percent.

 

All of our local colleges work specifically with Pell-eligible students, students with disabilities and students with other needs. That means offerings like free tutoring and academic advising are available. Combined with the ability for smaller schools to work one-on-one with students, this can have a major impact on the success of students in these programs.

Utilizing the WV Invests grant program to pursue two-year programs – like WVU Potomac State’s hospitality–culinary degree at WVU Tech or over 40 programs at New River CTC is a way to earn an associate degree and get a very powerful head start on a four-year degree. New River CTC collaborates with many other higher education institutions and business partners so that students know that their future possibilities are endless.

The Concord University Beckley location has served the region for over 40 years. This location offers easy in-seat, online, and virtual classes in General Education, Social Work, and Business Administration degrees in fully accredited programs.

All of our institutions have robust career services programs that help students use that affordable training to land a job anywhere in the world. WVU Tech, for instance, is ranked No. 1 in the state for return on investment and in the top 15 percent for earning potential in the country for their graduates.  

Bluefield State College provides high-quality education in Nursing and Radiologic Technology. These two-year degree programs offered in Bluefield and Beckley prepare students to be job-ready upon graduation. Both programs continue to have 100 percent job placement for our graduates.  

University of Charleston Beckley also provides small class ratios and exceptional faculty to allow students the opportunity to join the fast-growing field of health care within about two years. Degrees are available in Nursing, Occupational Therapy Assistant and Radiologic Technology.

Another advantage to being positioned with so many higher ed opportunities is that our smaller campuses here in southern West Virginia have had success with fewer outbreaks of Covid-19. Some have been able to have in-person classes that meet safety guidelines. This past semester, Valley College taught a large part of the ground Medical Clinical Assistant program through virtual learning, but students still came on campus to do their clinical lab classes and then proceeded on to an externship. For the last official reporting period Valley achieved an 82 percent placement rate for its Medical Clinical Assistant program. 

Many small campuses have also been able to safely have athletic programs during this time when many other schools have not been able to safely do so.

As the pressure mounts for more colleges to recruit and retain out-of-state students, admissions will be faced with welcoming and accommodating students who wish to stay close to home.Given the challenges of today, many college and university leaders will have to adjust their enrollment management to meet the ever-changing student needs. Southern West Virginia higher education institutions are perfectly positioned to meet those needs.  

 

Michelle Rotellini is president and CEO of Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce. She also is co-owner of The Dish Cafe, a popular farm-to-table restaurant in Daniels.

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