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The Challenges We Face

West Virginia University has been facing difficult headwinds for some time. A declining college-aged population. A lower college-going rate. Rising financial costs. A national narrative that questioned the value of college. Changes to PEIA. An increase in costs of goods and services.

After two years of financial challenges with the pandemic, 2022 saw our first-time freshmen return to a stable number through an improved market share. The University also saw dramatically improved graduation rates – and that is good news. But when we did not account for a higher graduation rate, it affected our bottom line when there were fewer students on campus.

We also experienced the phenomenon known as The Great Dropout. According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, undergraduate college enrollment dropped 8 percent from 2019 to 2022, with declines continuing even after returning to in-person classes. Students chose not to return to college due to a strong job market, the rising costs of attendance and a jaded perspective on education. All the factors led to a loss in total enrollment.

Due to the current challenges, combined with those of 2019, the University is projecting a $45-million-dollar structural budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2024. And as we face the demographic cliff over the next five years, that deficit could grow to around $75 million based on conservative enrollment and inflation projections.

A Different University

On March 17, WVU’s Board of Governors directed that the University reposition itself today so that it can be a responsive, relevant university system of the future. A system that meets the needs of the students and of the market – providing degrees and experiences that will lead to meaningful careers and productive lives. A system that invests in the initiatives that will change the trajectory of our state and its people. A University that is uniquely West Virginia University.

As we face forward to address our future and focus our energies, we are focusing on what President Gee describes as our First Principles. These principles in many ways return us to our core roots and are critical as we prioritize the issues facing higher education and our own financial situation.

First Principles

  • To begin, we will put our students first.
  • Second, we must embrace our land-grant mission and the people we serve.
  • And third, we must differentiate ourselves by investing in the initiatives that uniquely serve our campus community, reflect our values and play to our strengths.