Two-year schools should be included

Big changes may be on the horizon for higher education in West Virginia — part of it, anyway. As for the rest, there are indications it may continue to be treated as the ugly stepsister of the state’s four-year colleges and universities.

We refer to the two-year community and technical colleges sprinkled throughout the state. An excellent example of their importance to Mountain State residents was provided recently in Wheeling.

West Virginia Northern Community College officials formally opened their new Industrial Technology Center. Appropriately enough, the “ribbon” they cut was made of steel. It was severed using a welding torch.

The center will provide training in various skills in high demand in the energy industry. Some of what will be taught, such as welding, opens up opportunities in many types of businesses.

WVNCC, with campuses in Wheeling, Weirton and New Martinsville, offers two tracks for students. They can obtain training and certificates that will take them directly into jobs, or they can begin educations that culminate at four-year institutions. For many, perhaps most, West Virginians, that type of higher education option is very appealing.

Yet a “blue-ribbon commission” appointed by the governor earlier this year, to study higher education and make recommendations to the Legislature, is focused only on four-year colleges and universities. There is no representation on it from the two-year schools.

By itself, that is not a terrible problem. The four-year institutions fill their own niche in higher education, after all.

But depending on what the governor’s commission recommends and the Legislature does, action on the four-year schools could have an impact on the needs for community and technical colleges.

Soon, then, Gov. Jim Justice should consider appointing another blue-ribbon commission — this one to study two-year colleges and their cousins, the technical education programs at many high schools.