Investing in West Virginia’s future

Politicians talk often about investing in West Virginia’s future. Too often, that is an excuse to spend taxpayers’ money on short-term jobs such as construction projects that provide excellent photo-ops.

In terms of really building a brighter future for our state as a whole and for thousands of young men and women we would like to keep in West Virginia, there is no better investment than West Virginia University.

This week, some members of the state Legislature are talking about what amounts to reversing that investment. They are suggesting that to balance the budget, WVU should accept a 15 percent reduction in state support.

WVU already has been a partner in the shared sacrifice needed to get state government’s fiscal house in order. It has lost nearly $29 million in state support during the past few years. And, as university President E. Gordon Gee emphasized recently, WVU officials were ready to cope with another 4.4 percent in cuts.

But 15 percent? That simply is too much. Surely other ways can be found to reduce spending without gutting our state’s flagship university.

WVU is not merely one more institution of higher learning — though that function is critical. In a state where the percentage of residents with college degrees is the lowest in the nation, the university provides the low-cost, high-quality educations our children and grandchildren need.

Other aspects of the university also are vital. WVU’s Health Sciences program not only trains doctors, nurses and other professionals, but provides state-of-the-art care for many in the Mountain State.

Cutting-edge research at WVU develops new job-creating technologies — while shining a spotlight on our state as a good place for the private sector to commercialize them.

The WVU Extension Service touches the lives of virtually everyone in the Mountain State, offering help to small businesses, ideas for West Virginia families to improve their quality of life, and many other services.

These are just a few of the many ways in which WVU repays taxpayers’ investment many times over. Which ones would legislators thinking of deep cuts to the university’s budget eliminate?

Lots of speculative suggestions for investing in our state’s future are being tossed around in Charleston. There is a profound difference between many of them and state support of WVU, however. It is that support for the university is an investment we know works.

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