WVU education cost spiraling out of reach for too many state residents

Our world increasingly requires a four-year college degree to get ahead. And more and more, it’s looking like the children of today will need a master’s or a doctorate in some field in order to succeed.

But that costs money. Lots of it.

And that’s a growing problem for West Virginians and Americans.

There was a time when a young person from anywhere in the Mountain State could count on getting a great education from West Virginia University for an affordable price.

WVU never has been confused with Harvard, Yale, MIT, Cal-Berkeley or even North Carolina or Duke when it comes to academic prestige.

But a West Virginia University degree carries plenty of clout all around this country, and in many places of the world, and always has. It’s a piece of paper that’s been worth its weight in gold figuratively and, in many cases, literally.

The problem, though, is that the cost of an education for a state resident student of WVU today is dramatically more, with inflation factored in, than it was for his predecessors 40 years ago.

A peek at the WVU archived catalog for the 1977-78 academic year showed the cost of an academic year’s work then. Textbooks ($200), enrollment fees ($483) and a nine-month term of residence ($2,600) added up to a total cost of education of $3,283.

Running WVU’s 2017-18 cost estimator for an undergraduate resident of West Virginia in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences shows a total cost of $22,994 for the same fees and residence this fall.

Inputting the 1977 figure of $3,283 in the Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator shows the 40-year-old figure would have had the buying power of about $13,747 now.

Subtract today’s $22,994 from the adjusted 1977-78 cost of $13,747, and that’s a difference of $9,247 an academic year, or about $37,000 over the course of a four-year degree program.

That’s money that a college graduate could use toward a car loan, a home loan or even to decide to attend graduate school.

Bluntly, all this means that the price of higher education is getting out of reach for more and more West Virginia residents. Or in the alternative, they’re signing up to live in debt for the first decade or more of their working careers, the kind of red numbers that may make it likely that they’ll be living paycheck to paycheck until they die.

And left unsaid: It’s going to be even more difficult for their children to go to a college like WVU, since these parents are going to have enough trouble with their own finances.

There are options. Schools that teach trades, nursing programs, primarily commuter universities, junior colleges and community colleges all come to mind.

They are quickly becoming more and more of a legitimate option for state residents who otherwise will have to take out mountainous student loans.

West Virginia isn’t alone in this trend. It’s happening elsewhere, too, although the state’s recent budget crunch is pushing WVU’s numbers higher at an alarming rate.

State residents who were able to enjoy all that a WVU education could offer — and it’s a heck of a lot, from education to athletics to diversity to creating a network of friends — should be hurting right now for the young West Virginians of tomorrow.

Because as the university cost gets higher, some of that diversity, specifically some of the young West Virginians who come from less fortunate financial backgrounds, are getting ruled out of the equation.

That may not be surprising in a country where the rich are getting much richer and most everyone else is not. But it’s still a shame.

If you agree, take some time to write or call Gov. Jim Justice, as well as your representatives in the Legislature and WVU President Dr. E. Gordon Gee.

Certainly there’s something that can be done to first of all halt this disturbing trend, and secondly turn back the clock somewhat on education costs at the state’s flagship university.

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