By Jim Ross, The State Journal
It starts with tearing down vacant student housing and adding wifi to dorms. It includes asking members of various constituencies — students, alumni, employers, the general public —what’s needed.
All in all, it will be a long process bringing the West Virginia University Institute of Technology back from the multitude of problems it faces.
“I don’t know what Tech looks like 10 years from now. That’s one of our challenges,” said Carolyn Long, Tech’s campus executive officer. “That’s not going to be my view. That’s going to be the community’s vision, the Tech vision.”
Long was appointed to the top administrative position last month by the West Virginia University Board of Governors. She is a former superintendent of Braxton County schools, and she was a member of the WVU Board of Governors from 2006 until she resigned late last year to apply for the Tech position. She chaired the board from 2008-11.
She moved into the Tech president’s residence last month.
“I was well aware and well-versed of Tech, some of its good points and some of its issues,” Long said during a recent interview in her office.
“We knew we had issues here, and we knew they had to be dealt with.”
A report ordered last year by the Legislature and released last fall painted a dismal picture of Tech and its future. The report described Tech as a school plagued by shrinking enrollment and inadequate resources. It didn’t buy books for its library. On-campus student housing lagged behind that at other schools.
The report said Tech needed to increase its enrollment from the current level of about 1,200 to at least 1,800 if the school was to be viable financially. WVU subsidizes Tech by about $2.5 million a year.
Long said Tech will have to emphasize three Rs in its recovery plan: recruit, retain, rebuild.
“Tech is a very good institution. I think it’s important we have small rural colleges. We have students that would not be comfortable or not succeed in larger institutions,” she said. Tech has a “wonderful” engineering school and good business and nursing schools, she added.
Long said she and others will have to go out and tell prospective students what Tech has to offer, about the quality of its professors and how student-friendly the school is.
Tech wants to draw from all over the state, but its best recruiting areas probably will be the Kanawha Valley and nearby counties, Long said. The school will look for first-generation students and for veterans getting out of the service.
But increasing enrollment by 50 percent won’t happen overnight, Long said.
“This is a process that will take four, five, six years,” she said.
Once the students get to Montgomery, faculty, staff and others will have to provide an atmosphere where they can succeed and return, Long said.
As for rebuilding, Tech will have to upgrade or replace some of its buildings, Long said. But before Tech can undertake major capital projects, it must improve campus life for students, she said. As part of that, all dorms should have wifi by the beginning of the fall semester and perhaps before the end of this school year.
An intramural sports program is being developed, and part of the space in the library will be converted for use for tutoring or for a student lounge, Long said.
Tech will also clean dorms and renovate them as money is available. An unoccupied building known as Coed will come down soon, Long said.
The Tech Golden Bear Alumni Association will erect a welcome sign on the green space that will be created when Coed is demolished.
“I believe Tech can be successful. Certainly we’re going to need help from the Legislature. We’re going to need help from WVU, and we’re going to need help from the HEPC,” Long said.
Long said Tech will develop a “precise” and “targeted” strategic plan. Work on that plan will start soon and will involve the community, faculty and staff, she said.
As part of that effort, Tech, WVU and the HEPC have formed the WVU Tech Transition Steering Committee to review and implement the revitalization study that came out last fall. The committee had its organizational meeting last month.
David Hendrickson, chairman of the HEPC, will chair the steering committee. Other members are Paul Hill, interim chancellor of the HEPC; HEPC member John Estep; Long; Garth Thomas, assistant provost at WVU Tech; Ed Robinson, chairman of the Tech Board of Visitors; and Robert Griffith, a member of the WVU Board of Governors. Bill Hutchens, WVU vice president of legal affairs, and Bruce Walker, HEPC general counsel, are ex officio members.
Hill said the process of identifying problems and making changes in the interest of students will take a couple of years. The steering committee will look at academics, buildings and funding, he said.
The committee will have its initial meeting in March on the Tech campus.
Hill acknowledged that much has changed in the past couple of decades. The population of the area around Montgomery has declined. Other schools, such as Marshall University, are adding engineering programs. And prospective students have an easier time getting to Morgantown and other areas with engineering programs.
So one thing the steering committee will have to look at is Tech’s role in West Virginia’s public higher education system, he said.
“We know it will be something different than what it has been,” Hill said. Tech will be a smaller school than it was historically, he said. The committee will look at enhancing programs that are attracting students, and it will consider terminating those that are not, he said. And if there is a market for a program the school does not have now, the committee will look at what is needed to add it, Hill said.
Upper Kanawha Valley
Dennis Jarvis, director of the Upper Kanawha Valley Economic Development Corp., said a strong Tech is important to his part of the valley. He said he is glad to see Long having conversations with the community about the future of the school.
“Ms. Long was walking through the Kroger in Smithers last night shopping and talking to people. She’s truly engaging in the local community,” Jarvis said.
“She has a great understanding of the campus and its future and a vision. She’s very engaged with the community. Tech is reaching out to community partners at various levels and diverse backgrounds to build an understanding of where we are and where we want to be. Tech grows with the community and the community grows with Tech.”
Jarvis said he has talked with companies that have considered locating in the upper Kanawha Valley. They look for a community where a work force can be trained at two-year and four-year schools, he said.
“It’s essential to have Bridgemont (CTC) and WVU Tech continue to grow and flourish,” he said.
Long said Tech must change as it prepares students for jobs that don’t exist now and for technology that doesn’t exist now. As Tech is rebuilt and grows, people will see new buildings, a vibrant student body and a somewhat revitalized town of Montgomery, she said.
Hill said that as the steering committed does its community outreach and talks with industry and the community, it is operating on one assumption: WVU Tech will remain open.
“By no means are we suggesting in any way that the institution cease to exist,” he said.