Education, WVU News

President Gee’s State of the University: WVU offers education, hope and purpose

MORGANTOWN – WVU President Gordon Gee gloried in the accomplishments of the university during the past year and offered words of inspiration for the year, and years, to come during his State of the University address on Monday.

He presented his comments to the Faculty Senate, assembled at the law school.

He opened by acknowledging the challenges of the pandemic. “The West Virginia University community has spent the past two years doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times,” he said. “This is the epitome of who we are; this is how Mountaineers go first.”

But things still aren’t rosy, he said. “We are undoubtedly in tumultuous times.” The Great Dropout saw more than 4 million people leave higher education. In West Virginia, the college-going rate fell from 56% to 46% across the last 10 years. “An increasing loss of confidence in higher education has left people questioning whether there is any value to a college degree.”

But he sees the possibilities for the university, the potential for the students and commitment of the faculty and staff. “All of us gathered here today are part of a powerful, powerful collective that nourishes potential.”

Gee reviewed WVU efforts in working with public schools, and cutting edge medical and energy research.

“The national narrative of high cost and low value has fueled distrust and fueled the debate of whether college is worth it,” he said. But the answer is an emphatic yes. The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities says that those with bachelor’s degrees are half as likely to be unemployed and earn $1.2 million more than those without degrees across their careers.

Part of WVU’s land grant mission, Gee said, is to offer an education at an affordable cost. While the average college student across the nation graduates $33,000 in debt, graduates from the Morgantown campus average just over $12,000, and this past May 41% graduated with no debt.

That’s made possible in part, he said through private giving to the WVU Foundation for financial aid and scholarships: amounting to $126 million in aid in 2021-22.

“Educating our people is our central purpose and it has never been more critical,” he said. Education helps West Virginians rise above the challenges they face.

Beyond the land grant mission, he said, WVU has also climbed the heights of top research universities, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Since 2016, WVU has been ranked among the 146 of the 4,500 institutions in the nation as R1: very high research activity, alongside Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Johns Hopkins.

WVU has more than doubled sponsored research over the last five years, to more than $172 million; and aims to more than double that in next five, reaching or exceeding $500 million, he said.

All the learning and all the research has to apply to real life. Gee said. “Our values in action show that we are more than an institution of higher learning. We are an institution of higher purpose.”

Students pursue not just a major but a path they will follow for a lifetime, he said.

“We must never question whether we are making a difference,” he said. No other university is more committed to and rooted in its mission of helping its students and the state.

“Let us continue to embrace our land grant purpose and surmount all the challenges on the horizon. Let us boldly ascend toward a higher education, a higher quality of life and a brighter future for all.”

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