Public higher education across the country has been in a prolonged state of disruption for several decades, facing declines in enrollment due to changing demographics, reductions in state appropriations, the student debt crisis, and growing skepticism about the value of a college degree.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated that disruption, leading to a further decline in the number of college-going students in the state. It has also upended the traditional college model, showing an increased preference among students for hybrid instruction and 24/7 virtual student support services. While much of higher education faces an existential crisis, West Virginia University is uniquely positioned to turn these challenges into opportunities.
Unlike many universities of a similar size, WVU has already demonstrated its ability to be adaptive and responsive and its willingness to transform. WVU has led the nation in adopting a flexible and affordable online programming model, creating a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship, and purpose, and being a leader in engaged outreach that serves communities in the state and region. However, to continue to thrive, WVU must build on its strengths to radically imagine the future of the public land-grant university.
To retain its bricks-and-mortar presence, WVU must restate the value of an in-person college experience. WVU’s unique strength as a mission-driven, engaged land-grant university may offer a path forward. Through its academic programming, cutting-edge research, and impactful outreach, WVU has already demonstrated its value to the citizens of the state and Appalachian region. It can further build upon its record, to provide all students the opportunity to work in communities where they can apply their classroom knowledge to solve real-world problems and further develop their professional and “soft” skills. West Virginia has many of the nation’s most pressing problems, but it is small enough to be a learning laboratory, where students and faculty will be empowered to devise and implement solutions.
- How does WVU build on its experiences to-date to be a truly “engaged” university, offering every student the opportunity to work and learn in communities throughout the state/region?
- What kinds of centers of excellence could WVU create that would offer real-time support and engagement with local communities, tying the expertise of academic units/programs with the needs of the state and region?
- How does WVU lead the way in becoming a modern-land grant university that provides its students with unique real-world experiences while helping to address the challenges and opportunities facing the state, region, nation, and world?
- How do we blow up the current model of four year, in-person instruction to address the needs of future students, including older and non-traditional students and the demands of the dynamic digital economy and its evolving industries?