Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Why Biden’s liberal politics must end W.Va. higher education’s financial woes

by Aisha Rizwan 

Reportedly, West Virginia University is facing a $75 million budget shortfall in the next decade, with $45 million needed in the short term. The faculty is facing downsizing, budget cuts and freezes on future employment. These drastic measures show the level of challenge faced by higher education institutions in West Virginia.  

Left liberal politics promises social mobility at grassroots and education is the best way to achieve it. That is why President Biden’s left liberal politics must end West Virginia higher education’s financial woes for the next decade by sanctioning a $300 million special grant.  

To prevent economic collapse, West Virginia needs to retain its in-state students. Without the aid, it would be impossible to keep, sustain and retain them. These graduates will in turn bring necessary manpower to run the state economy, add to local revenue, and help expand businesses by creating more jobs and control emigration. Unlike out-of-state students, in-state college graduates have a higher probability of workforce participation in the state.  

The state has to increase the dwindling number of in-state students with required incentives. College graduates earn more, and they have more disposable income. This means they will invest in houses and vehicles; pay utility bills, insurance, taxes and medical care; and their children will go to local schools. Early mortgage will help them save 40% that would otherwise be spent on rent. Similarly, it will keep the families in one place and their money in the state. In many cases, it would help their aging parents also.  

Lower in-state tuition will help social mobility. With growing inflation and higher cost of living, education enrollment is falling. This will increase unemployment, poverty and allied problems, including mental health and its fallouts for individuals, families and communities. A lower tuition fee will attract more students. A higher graduation rate is important, but so is keeping incentives for in-state students, including scholarships. 

The reports of downsizing faculty, eliminating programs and other steps may provide short-term financial relief, but it will be at the cost of decades of progress, planning and hard work. It is common knowledge that West Virginia needs more students, graduates and faculty. It would be very difficult to recoup the experienced, trained faculty who are familiar with the local students, culture and way of life. 

The measures that WVU adopts will have a domino effect on other colleges and higher education institutions in West Virginia. WVU will be the test case in terms of incentives for in-state students, retaining faculty and reinventing for the next decade.  

However, other state institutions should be involved as well. A consensus among West Virginia’s higher education institutions would create a unified message for the political leadership of the state to win a $300 million special grant from the president to help these institutions reinvent themselves to make West Virginia competitive in the next decade. The state institutions should plan accordingly to overcome three levels of challenges: emigration, loss of revenue and collapse of an entire economic system just for $45 million, with a potential to bring more than billion dollars in the same period with similar steps.  

Biden should allocate a special $300 million annual federal grant to West Virginia’s higher education institutions for the next 10 years to make higher education affordable. In return, better higher education will help cut federal and state spending on unemployment benefits, social housing and food stamps, as well as lower student debt. The most critical decision the president needs to make is to make higher education affordable at the state level to keep local graduate students in the state and save local economies, jobs and family units today — or end up spending much more to restore all this tomorrow.  

Dr. Aisha Rizwan (MD and MS from WVU) is a scholar in the WVU Higher Education Administration program. Her interests include minimizing education costs with the help of the latest developments, including modern technologies like AI, to cut cost of living, improve living standards and increase employment to cut social security funding, and where possible, use it for education.