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Education

Higher Ed Officials Say Enrollment Decline Was ‘Moderate’ This Fall

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In the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s regular meeting Friday, it was announced that starting Monday, all of West Virginia’s four-year, public higher education institutions will be virtual-only until next semester.

Commission Chancellor Sarah Armstrong Tucker said the decision was made to help slow the spread of the coronavirus during the holidays.

The HEPC also released enrollment data for fall 2020. The commission reports that enrollment at most campuses in the state fell 2.8 percent due to the pandemic.

Declines were mostly among dual-enrollment, non-resident and international students.

“We had a lot of uncertainties going into this fall semester,” said HEPC Chancellor Sarah Armstrong Tucker. “Working closely together, our college and university presidents made the decision to bring students back to campus, but in the safest possible way. While we saw some enrollment declines, I am encouraged by the fact that so many in-state students are continuing their education.”

First-time freshmen at West Virginia’s four-year institutions dropped for the fifth year in a row, down by 5.4 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020.

Tucker said the state’s four-year enrollment numbers mirror national trends and reflect the state's declining population. She also encouraged high school students to stay on track for college, even as the pandemic challenges them to participate in education in different ways.

“We know high school students are grappling every day with uncertainties around attending school in person, keeping up good grades in a virtual environment, and staying healthy and safe,” Tucker said. “This is a lot to deal with, but in spite of it all we have to encourage our young people to not lose sight of their futures.”

West Virginia ranks in the top 10 states in providing college financial aid, according to the commission. The state’s higher education system gives more than $104 million in student aid every year.

Tucker also said the state’s higher education institutions managed to see less than one percent of students, faculty and staff test positive for the virus through the fall semester.

With state support, about 10 percent of the college population statewide received weekly coronavirus testing. HEPC officials said while cases did "increase moderately," schools have been able to contain the disease thus far.

Higher education leaders plan to implement campuswide testing for the virus in January and continue with surveillance testing throughout the spring semester.


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