Education subcommittee looks to do away with HEPC

CHARLESTON — The regulatory body overseeing West Virginia colleges and universities could be scrapped in favor of a new agency under a proposal being considered by a blue-ribbon subcommittee.

The Structure and Organizational Subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission for Four-Year Higher Education met Monday morning by conference call. The subcommittee was tasked with looking at the governing structures of higher education in West Virginia.

“Our mission statement is really to look at modernizing and have the higher education in West Virginia — the governing system — be more efficient and not with the bureaucracy and the double-mandates that we have,” said Andrew “Drew” Payne, chairman of the subcommittee.

Payne is a member of the Higher Education Policy Commission and a former chairman of the West Virginia University Board of Governors.

West Virginia University President Gordon Gee, the co-chair of the full Blue Ribbon Commission, has been an outspoken opponent of HEPC ever since the body was mandated by the Legislature to develop a performance-based funding model for higher education. During Monday’s conference call, Gee called for a new agency to replace HEPC and provide support services to colleges and universities.

Gee said there is no need for a single regulatory body such as the HEPC. While all the state’s colleges and universities have their own governing boards appointed by the governor, only WVU and Marshall University don’t answer to the HEPC.

“First of all, our boards are appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate, and then there are considerable oversights of these boards that occur from the Legislature,” Gee said. “No. 2, what we need to be doing is we need to make certain our smaller institutions have access to support when they need it. The larger institutions obviously don’t need to have that.”

The draft funding model proposed by HEPC would determine how much state funding each four-year college and university received based on several criteria, including in-state enrollment, credit-hours and progress toward degrees. If the Legislature approves of the formula, it would reduce the amount of money some schools — including WVU — receive from the state.

Gee said HEPC provides an unneeded level of redundancy and regulation and is not doing what was originally intended for the agency.

“We need to get back into the business of not having redundancy and oversight from a centralized body, particularly one we cannot afford,” Gee said. “The Higher Education Policy Commission was created as a policy commission. It is now a regulatory agency way beyond the boundaries of what is good for higher education.”

Under Gee’s proposal, HEPC would be shut down and replaced by a service agency for higher education. The governor and Legislature would provide regulatory oversight for higher education. The subcommittee will present the proposal to the full Blue Ribbon Commission at its next meeting.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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