(1) WVU-Tech has a distinguished history of more than a hundred years of service, growth and change, but, in addition to the positive advancements, the institution also has dealt with internal conflict and external controversy initiated by multiple changes in policy direction, governance structure and mission. It was founded in 1895 as a preparatory school of West Virginia University and since that time, has functioned as a trade school, a junior college, a free-standing baccalaureate institution and a regional campus of West Virginia University. In 2007, it became a fully-integrated division of West Virginia University.
(2) The many changes of name, mission, governance structure and affiliation, together with its location in the heart of the southern coal fields, assure the institution a unique place in the state system of higher education. The institution continues to provide vital education opportunities to the mostly-rural population which comprise its primary service clientele.
(3) Both its traditional strength and its unique opportunity for future growth and service lie in its focus on STEM education, particularly in undergraduate engineering and technology, in which it has been a leader for nearly sixty years.
(4) The student-centered programs, combined with small classes and individualized instruction, provide undergraduates with opportunities for hands-on research and cooperative work experiences that usually are available only to graduate students.
(5) The Legislature further finds the following regarding the state system of higher education:
(A) Retention and graduation rates at the state institutions of higher education are a major source of concern for state policymakers.
(i) The average retention rate for the state system as a whole, calculated from the fall semester in 2008 to the fall semester of 2009, the most recent period for which data are available, is seventy-three percent. Twenty-seven students out of every one hundred who were enrolled in a state institution of higher education in 2008 did not return for the fall semester in 2009.
(ii) On average, of the students who entered four-year state institutions of higher education as first-time freshmen in 2004, only forty percent had graduated six years later.
(iii) Within these statewide averages there are significant variations among both institutions and disciplines, particularly in the disciplines emphasizing STEM education. Retention rates range from a high of eighty-two percent to a low of fifty-five percent. Six-year graduation rates fall between a high of fifty-nine percent and a low of fifteen percent.
(B) According to the WV-CURE report submitted by WV-CURE in 2008, West Virginia faces many of the same challenges in preparing and recruiting STEM professionals as the rest of the country, but in addition has unique challenges related to its population demographics and geography.
(C) Due to its unique history and geographical location, WVU- Tech provides the ideal laboratory in which to develop a successful model to address these challenges through the revitalization plan created pursuant to section three of this article.
(c) Legislative intent. --
(1) It is the intent of the Legislature in establishing the revitalization project to encourage WVU-Tech to build upon its tradition of high-quality, student-centered STEM education, to assist the institution to reach its full potential as a center of excellence and a positive force for economic development and cultural enrichment within the community and state, to implement certain recommendations from the WV-CURE report and to create a successful policy model that state decision makers may employ in other areas where state institutions of higher education struggle to overcome similar problems. The revitalization project shall serve as a laboratory in which to identify problems, research solutions and implement those programs and procedures that best meet the intent of this article.
(2) It is further the intent of the Legislature to promote institutional stability at WVU-Tech by keeping the governance structure of the institution unchanged until the report required in section four of this article is received in 2014. Throughout the WVU-Tech revitalization process, the governing board retains statutory control of the institution. Except for authority otherwise granted by statute, this article extends the commission's authority only to those items identified in the revitalization plan and funded by legislative appropriation therefor. Note: WV Code updated with legislation passed through the 2012 1st Special Session