23 Jun

While many of its peers are struggling and wondering what the future holds, West Virginia University is poised to build on a strong foundation and move into the future serving the state and nation, President James P. Clements told alumni, legislators and supporters Wednesday.

“Everything we do has one goal,” Clements told about 300 persons gathered in the Newseum in Washington for the annual State of the University address. “Making sure that the American dream of an education is not just a dream, but a reality within the grasp of every student willing to work hard and reach out to take advantage of it. It’s hard to put a value on these successes.”But success hasn’t made the University immune to the trials and responsibilities of operating a public, land-grant university during a time of economic chaos, he said. State budgets are still shrinking and students still expect the best education at the most affordable price.

“As we move forward, our greatest obligation – and our greatest opportunity – is to build on this foundation of growth and get stronger in the midst of major challenges facing American higher education,” Clements said.

Clements used his annual address in Washington to ask – and answer – the fundamental questions facing higher education as it confronts the needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Clements began his speech by reminding the audience that WVU is in an enviable – and somewhat unique – position in higher education today. While other schools have struggled to maintain financial footing, WVU has thrived. Enrollment remains solid, faculty numbers are growing, private giving is increasing and research is expanding.

As the University celebrates its accomplishments, it also looks to the future, guided by these current and future challenges and questions:

  • One decade into a new century, what role does higher education play in the American dream?
  • In tough economic times, how can higher education do a better job of demonstrating value?
    • How will research continue to transform our lives and society?
    • Looking ahead to 2050, how can we ensure that WVU achieves its goal of becoming a leader in meeting the needs of the nation and the world?

As a first-generation college graduate, Clements understands the vital role education has played, and can continue to play, in the American dream. As a land-grant institution, educating all students who meet criteria for admission is part of the WVU mission. The University offers, and values, access and affordability. WVU was one of four institutions with the highest marks for overall performance on educational access in a recent Education Trust ranking.

To continue that mission, Clements said, WVU offers many programs that reach across financial and cultural barriers, including: the Minority Doctoral Program, the Health Sciences and Technology Academy and the Academic STARS program, recently launched by the Center for Black Culture and Research.

But in a world where value has taken on more significance, especially in terms of education, it is important to address the question of value, Clements said.

A recent national report for the College Board’s Commission on Access, Admissions, and Success in Higher Education considered the role of education in helping this country to regain its competitive edge in the world. One of the key recommendations was for 55 percent of the U.S. population to hold a college degree or certificate by 2025.

It’s a goal that could be difficult to reach because, in these economic times, education is at a premium. Costs continue to rise dramatically while family incomes remain relatively flat, forcing lower and middle income families to spend a much larger share of its income to pay for college.

“This is creating a heart-breaking disparity of opportunity in our country,” Clements said. “However, the cost of not going to college is enormous.”

It could result in less earning power, fewer job opportunities and the demise of the middle class.

At WVU, however, providing affordable education and recruiting first-generation college students, has always been and remains a strength.

More than one in five students is the first in his or her family to attend college, and they do so at one of the lowest tuition rates of any flagship university in the country, all while maintaining high educational standards.

Part of that standard is the continued funding of research.

“Just like education, research is inherent to our land-grant mission because investment in research literally changes lives,” Clements said.

He cited the University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions the Center for Identification Technology Research the College of Law’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Clinic and WVU’s CARDIAC Project among the dozens of examples of the University’s life-altering research initiatives.

And the University plans to redouble its commitment to the research mission. Already this year, WVU’s sponsored funding for research is up more than 8 percent to $165 million, and The Chronicle of Higher Education named WVU in the top 12 on its list of “Biggest Gainers in Federal Funds for Academic Research and Development.”

It’s important to intensify research in key areas, not only to make the nation stronger, healthier and safe, but because, “Only universities that evolve to prepare people for our changing world will become leaders in the 21st century,” Clements said.

He believes WVU will be among those universities because it is one of only 11 schools in the country that are land-grant, doctoral research universities with a comprehensive medical school. That not only situates WVU as vital to the state, but vital to the nation.

WVU’s return on investment of state tax dollars is 40-to-1 and its health care enterprise provides nearly $80 million in uncompensated care to those who could not otherwise afford those services. In addition, programs such as the legal clinics and Extension offices, provide necessary services, much of which, “cannot be measured, but the value is life-changing,” Clements said.

“Today, during a time of unparalleled change, there are staggering new demands on higher education and challenges that will surely threaten, change and improve for generations to come,” Clements concluded. “WVU will not only survive these changes but will emerge as one of the leading institutions of the future – in large part because we are rooted to our historic land-grant mission, while reimagining it for the 21st century.”

“If ever a place, a team, a community is ready to take on change, challenge and uncertainty, it is WVU,” he added.

Wednesday’s (June 23) speech was sponsored, as it has been for more than 30 years, by the National Capital Area Chapter of the WVU Alumni Association, and honored West Virginia’s congressional delegation, as well as alumni and friends.

For the third time in as many years, the event was held at the Newseum, a 250,000-square-foot museum of news in Washington, D.C.

As Clements spoke, the national and provocative questions he posed were supported by three-dimensional headlines pointing to the stories that guided WVU’s work this past year. The presentation was an example of another of WVU’s successes: the use of new technology to convey its story.

In addition to engaging the technological resources the Newseum has to offer, the University has established a website where others can join the conversation about the future.

Clements, who believes change results from the efforts of many, not just a few, is asking the WVU community to share its own ideas about the value and future of higher education by visiting http://sou.wvu.edu , where people may leave their comments and suggestions.

In addition, QR codes, which link to a special mobile version of the State of the University site, were placed around the Newseum, allowing those in attendance to begin offering their comments. (QR Codes store URLs. Users with a camera phone equipped with a reader can scan the image of the QR Code, launching the URL on their mobile device, and go to a special mobile page to leave their comment.)