West Virginia’s colleges and universities received a failing grade in a report released recently by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce. The report identified the Mountain State as one of only four in the nation that received an “F” for not meeting the standards employers demand from four-year institutions.
The Institute, which is a nonprofit affiliate of the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, also reported that this state’s two-year colleges did only slightly better, receiving a “D” for their efforts.
The critical factor is that individuals who receive a bachelor’s degree in West Virginia only earn $12,700 more annually than those who merely graduate from high school. Even more revealing, they have an unemployment rate that is a mere two points better than those high school graduates. Those who receive associate degrees earn only $7,600 more annually and their unemployment rate is a mere 1.5 points lower than those with only a high school diploma.
The report also indicates West Virginia does a poor job of retaining four-year students through graduation and gives the state a low grade for what the study considers “highly restrictive” barriers and a burdensome approval process for those more innovative higher education campuses.
Another alarming aspect of the report is that the four-year public colleges in this state had a retention rate of 72 percent in 2009. Only five states in the nation had a poorer record. And West Virginia graduated fewer than half of its four-year college students — one of 17 states with that dubious distinction.
Back in January, the state Higher Education Policy Commission, along with the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics released a study that indicated most public college graduates in the 2010 work force had studied subjects that mirror the changing job market in this state. Two-thirds of them concentrated on business, education, health care, liberal arts or engineering.
The West Virginia Legislature has now increased its oversight of higher education, including the private colleges and universities as well as those publicly funded. A bill passed at the 2012 regular session earlier this year will ultimately require them to provide annual reports on their performance.
Any college or university that fails to provide this information or submits data that shows it is not meeting minimum standards could face state action to revoke that school’s authority to issue degrees.
In response to these dismal numbers, a task force created by the Higher Education Policy Commission and the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education announced a plan that aims to make college graduation a priority as well as reduce the time it takes to earn a degree, increase adult graduation rates and tie funding to college graduation rates. Hopefully that will result in a better grade when the states are reviewed the next time.
Meanwhile, the arguments concerning whether states should be collecting consumer sales taxes on purchases made on the Internet and shipped to the customer from other states was renewed last week in Charleston during a series of meetings of the Southern Legislative Conference, which was being hosted by West Virginia.
Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, argued during a meeting of that group’s Fiscal Affairs and Government Operations Committee, that it was not so much the additional tax revenue that would be generated. He said it is a “fairness issue” because most of the people who make purchases in local stores and don’t use the Internet to buy items from out-of-state companies have to pay the state’s sales tax while those using computers to make purchases from out of state avoid the tax.
State tax department officials estimate nearly $100 million in consumer sales tax revenue is lost annually because of a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that it would be too difficult to collect consumer sales tax on purchases from businesses in other states. And purchases made on the Internet from companies not located in West Virginia would account for between $50 million and $60 million of that total.
Doyle and other members of the committee voted unanimously last Monday to ask Congress to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow sales taxes to be collected by the states on these purchases. And the Southern Legislative Conference’s policy positions committee also endorsed it with no dissenting votes.
Finally, the revenue from West Virginia’s four racetrack casinos continues to exceed expectations in the face of growing competition from new gambling establishments in Ohio and Maryland. Total lottery receipts of $112.8 million in June were 3.7 percent better than expected, largely due to the results at the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town.
Table games at the Charles Town casino accounted for $12.9 million in June, which was nearly three times as much as the revenue at the state’s other three tracks combined. The Lottery Commission reported $1.45 billion in revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 and the state’s share of lottery profits was $651.7 million. But Lottery officials still believe increased competition from neighboring states of Ohio and Maryland will eventually reduce those numbers.