Facing mid-year budget cuts and proposed reductions in the new fiscal year, the state Higher Education Policy Commission is proposing draft legislation that would make it easier for West Virginia’s public colleges and universities to reduce spending and create additional revenues.

Commissioners meeting in Charleston Friday (Dec. 5) endorsed a three-part proposal which would address tuition and fee simplification, give greater flexibility in purchasing practices, and allow the commission to approve pilot programs where per credit hour tuition and fees would be allowed in lieu of the present tuition and fee structure.

“This is absolutely necessary,”said new commission member Mike Garrison.”We need to give our campuses as much autonomy and flexibility as we can.”

Garrison, former chief of staff for Gov. Bob Wise, was appointed to the commission this week, replacing Shawn Williams who resigned.

Last session, lawmakers approved a bill which gave colleges and universities nearly 20 powers they did not have. It was designed to cut expenses and increase operating efficiencies.

“This proposed legislation is a follow-up to the bill passed during the 2003 session,”said Scott Kelley, WVU vice president for administration, finance and human resources.”We are supportive of it and believe it will help as we deal with the possibility of more cuts.”

Because of continued revenue shortfalls, Gov. Wise has ordered a mid-year budget cut of 1.4 percent for higher education. For WVU , that would total about $2.5 million. This would be in addition to any budget reduction enacted in the next fiscal year.

Also Friday, the commission discussed the list of capital improvement projects slated to be funded by a $150-170 million bond issue next year.

WVU and its regional campuses could see anywhere from $56 million to $71 million from the sale, Kelley said. Morgantown campus projects include infrastructure improvements on the downtown campus; Brooks Hall renovation; and asbestos abatement at Allen and Percival Halls. The new fire training academy at Jackson’s Mill would also benefit from bond funding.

The bond issue will be supported by an annual lottery appropriation and other institutional revenues.

Final approval of the capital project list and bond funding recommendations is expected next month.

Among items approved by the commission Friday:

  • authorization of a lease purchase financing arrangement for WVU to effect a refinancing of an existing lease purchase financing arrangement (Fieldcrest Hall, the former Madison House). Proceeds from the refinancing would be used to acquire capital equipment.
  • preliminary authorization to University of Fairfax to operate as an institution of higher learning in West Virginia. Offices will be in Ranson with campus sites in Charles Town and Virginia. The university is proposing offering a master’s degree and a doctorate in information systems.
  • a land/use master plan at Marshall
  • realignment of employee investment options provided by Great West Retirement Services

  • p. designation of university status to Concord College, Fairmont State College, Shepherd College and West Virginia State College. The designation does not constitute an approval for a college to take the name”University”. A change in name must be approved by the legislature. The next regularly scheduled HEPC meeting will be in February.