CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL - When people think of higher education in West Virginia, they often think of public schools like West Virginia and Marshall universities, as well as West Virginia State, Fairmont State and smaller public colleges and universities.
That’s fine. Those institutions are doing important work, educating and preparing people in West Virginia for careers and life.
But there are eight other institutions of higher education in the state that often seem to be overlooked and not included in the discussion of how to make West Virginia better.
Yet those institutions have much to offer West Virginia. They are Alderson Broaddus University, Appalachian Bible College, Bethany College, Davis & Elkins College, Ohio Valley University, University of Charleston, Wheeling Jesuit University and West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Collectively, these institutions, united in a group called West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities, are educating 8,600 students, more than a third of whom are first-generation college attendees. They are able to do so at about one-fifth of the cost to taxpayers as public colleges and universities do, and their average graduation rate is higher than public institutions for bachelor’s degrees by 20 percent.
Their average faculty-student ratio is a low 13-1, creating an intimacy with students and level of flexibility that is often missing from public institutions. Their presence in the state is a benefit to all students, as the competition for high school graduates and returning-to-school adults makes all schools — public and private — better.
And since many independent institutions are located in small cities and rural areas, they bring jobs, economic development and much-needed opportunity to their communities.
Leaders of those institutions rightly believe that their collective contribution to the state is just as important as the public schools — and perhaps a tad better. They believe they, too, deserve a seat at the table in every discussion of higher education in the Mountain State.
Healthy states have a healthy higher education system, one that consists of both public and private institutions. West Virginia benefits from the presence of the independent colleges and universities, and they deserve to be included in all conversations about improving education in West Virginia.