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Cutting higher ed unwise

August 05, 2003

A month after a Wall Street bond rating agency praised West Virginia for encouraging more young people to seek a college education, Gov. Bob Wise is asking state colleges to trim their budgets by 9 percent. We question the wisdom of this request that comes just after a 10 percent across-the-board cut for all state agencies.

News of Wise's request that higher education absorb another $34 million in cuts came Sunday night. Lawmakers reacted almost immediately, decrying the cut's probable effect on economic development.

Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, noted that although higher education accounts for just 12 percent of the general fund budget, it is being asked to make up for 28 percent of a $120 million deficit in next year's budget.

Both Doyle and Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said that the cuts would negatively impact economic development. It certainly would knock out the underpinnings of a strategy released in 2002 by the West Virginia Roundtable.

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Two years of research determined that West Virginia's economy was tied to industries like manufacturing, timbering and mining, all of which are shrinking. To change that, the plan called for new investments in the state's "intellectual infrastructure."

Part of that strategy has started taking shape through the PROMISE scholarship program, which offers aid to high school students with a 3.0 average or better and a satisfactory score on the ACT test. The program was cited last month by Standard & Poor's, a New York bond rating house, which said it's helping to fight the state's low level of educational attainment.

The governor can't have it both ways, plugging the S&P report while cutting higher education. We recommend he revisit higher education before letting today's budget woes hurt all the state's tomorrows.

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