West Virginia University approves $7M in staff cuts, 3% tuition increase

Jun 23, 2023, 12:10 PM

FILE - The Mountainlair Student Union on West Virginia University downtown campus stands on April, ...

FILE - The Mountainlair Student Union on West Virginia University downtown campus stands on April, 24, 2015, in Morgantown, W.Va. With more cuts expected, the university's governing board moved forward Friday, June 23, 2023, with slashing 12 graduate and doctoral programs amid a $45 million budget shortfall and approved a just under 3 percent tuition increase. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson, File)

(AP Photo/Raymond Thompson, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — With more cuts expected, West Virginia University’s governing board moved forward Friday with slashing 12 graduate and doctorate programs amid a $45 million budget shortfall and approved a just under 3 percent tuition increase.

The estimated $1.2 billion fiscal year 2024 budget approved by the institution’s Board of Governors includes $7 million in staff cuts, or around 132 positions, including 38 faculty members.

For an undergraduate in-state resident, per-semester tuition will rise to $4,824, a $132 increase. Out-of-state undergraduates will pay $13,680 per semester, a $396 increase.

The public land-grant research university has been conducting a multi-year review of its programs to try to offset the growing deficit. President Gordan Gee and other top university officials say the shortfall, which officials say could rise to $75 million in five years, is largely a result of enrollment declines. The student population at West Virginia University has declined 10% since 2015.

Gee has also cited the factors of inflation stress and increases to premiums the school is required to pay for the state’s government employees’ health insurance program, PEIA, passed by the state Legislature earlier this year.

“This process is obviously challenging and at times painful for the University community. It is, however, necessary,” Gee said Friday.

In 2021, the University began its first review of master’s and PhD degree programs academic offerings to identify “programs of concern” using enrollment, graduate rate and job market data.

The 12 programs cut include graduate studies tracks for finance, instructional design and technology, and elementary and secondary education, as well as the school’s doctorate accounting program. Appeals by the instructional design and technology and finance programs were denied in April.

Programs and majors will stop admitting students after the start of the 2023-24 academic year. Officials said when a program is approved to be discontinued, it goes through a sunset and teach out process to ensure enrolled students are able to complete the program within a reasonable amount of time.

Three graduate programs that will be entirely preserved are graduate programs in special education, communication studies and journalism. Just over 20 others are currently being assessed with improvement plans.

The review of all academic programs underway now, “with the added goal of creating a smaller and more focused program portfolio,” said Maryanne Reed, provost and vice president of academic affairs for West Virginia University.

A list of programs “tagged for further review” will be made available the week of July 10, according to the university.

“This has been a very stressful time for our campuses and we are doing everything we can to support faculty and staff, who may be struggling with the uncertainty of how these changes will impact them,” Reed said during Friday’s meeting.

Last week, 55 faculty members signed and released an open letter opposing the reductions and calling the layoffs “unprecedented.” They said the process will damage the institution’s status as a research institution and that decision making about layoffs has not been transparent.

In a West Virginia University Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month, administrators struggled to identify the metrics they are using to evaluate programs and terminate faculty, even though layoffs have already begun, the letter alleges.

“Administrators claim down-sizing will be ‘student-centered,’ but the inconsistencies in program review practices suggest the academic ‘transformation’ is, at best, proceeding by financial guess work,” the faculty said.

During Friday’s meeting, the board also endorsed the merger of the University’s College of Creative Arts and the Reed College of Media, announced last week. Leadership from both colleges will work this summer to map out the new school.

In May 2021, the university announced plans for the first significant merger of two colleges with the creation of the new College of Applied Human Sciences.

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West Virginia University approves $7M in staff cuts, 3% tuition increase