As West Virginia University continues its controversial “academic transformation,” its president said Monday that his vision for WVU is to become the modern land-grant university of the future.
WVU President E. Gordon Gee discussed his vision at the Erickson Alumni Center in Morgantown in his State of the University Address.
In his address, Gee said that modernization would respect WVU’s roots while evolving to meet 21st century needs, and remaining unafraid to make changes to ensure its relevance, value and importance.
“We will serve as the great connector — building partnerships that drive industry, education and public sector growth,” Gee said. “And we will create the great public square our society so desperately needs, providing a safe and nurturing place for civil discourse and debate for all ideas.”
Many of those changes are coming in the face of a $45 million budget deficit.
In September, the university announced it would eliminate 143 faculty, 10 undergraduate programs and 18 graduate programs. The moves led to student protests and an overwhelming vote of no confidence in Gee from the WVU Faculty Senate.
According to WVU, it has been able to cut the deficit by $21 million for the fiscal year 2024.
One of Gee’s goals is to increase student enrollment. He said WVU will do so by continuing to recruit first-time freshmen in primary markets, as well as new territories. It will also work to add more online degree options, reach adult learners such as veterans, improve the transfer pipeline and add a path for those seeking microcredentials.
“A team is developing a plan to offer microcredentials that will tailor relevant academic content to specific market needs,” Gee said. “This will provide anyone interested in learning the opportunity to gain knowledge that will improve their job performance, add skills to their portfolio and allow them to engage with the University to continue their education.”
WVU also will focus on existing academic strength in areas such as energy, forensics, neuroscience, astrophysics, Extension, the outdoor economy and fighting the opioid epidemic, and it will build on potential growth opportunities in robotics, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, sustainability, biometrics, cancer research, and Appalachian culture and the arts, Gee said.
WVU’s second priority will be to advance the university’s R1 mission to deliver solutions to real-world problems, Gee said. The third priority involves growing the Health Sciences Center to improve health care. For example, the WVU School of Nursing and Potomac State College created an LPN to BSN nursing program to allow currently employed nurses to become RNs with bachelor’s degrees in nursing while continuing to work while enrolled. This will be the only program of its kind in the state.
Gee also talked about the University’s goal to place the WVU Cancer Institute in the top 2% of cancer centers nationwide and another effort to help fill critical needs for certain medical professions and occupations with WVU graduates.
The fourth priority is to remain the economic engine of the state by partnering with industry. Gee noted West Virginia has just been chosen as one of seven regional hydrogen hubs to receive nearly $1 billion in federal funding, “thanks to the work of the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen team that was driven by members from our University.”
By working together and focusing on its priorities, Gee said WVU can lead in new ways as the modern land-grant university that serves its students and society, and it can end the debate of whether a college education has value.
“That is the vision for West Virginia University. We have always been — and always will be — a strong, vibrant university. What we are building today is a university that remains strong but is increasingly relevant to the needs of today’s students and our global society.”