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WVU Tech's interim leader ready to face challenges head-on [Charleston Daily Mail]

By Amber Marra, Daily Mail

She has only been on the job 11 days, but Carolyn Long is already settled in as the interim leader of West Virginia University Institute of Technology.

She knows that she has a lot of work to do as Tech’s newest leader. In October, the Revitalization for WVU Tech Team presented a report to lawmakers regarding the troubled school.

After hearing the findings of that report, Long has a list of things she knows must be done.

“There are three things we have to do: Recruit, retain and rebuild,” Long said.

Long got the job as Tech’s transitional executive officer in December, but she prefers to be called the CEO, just for the sake of simplicity. She left her home of 37 years in Braxton County to take the job in Montgomery and has since settled into an office in Tech’s Old Main Hall.

She is enjoying her new surroundings, including the ever-present trains that continuously pass through town.

Despite an easy transition from one home to the other and a warm welcome from the Tech staff, she knows she has to face her work head-on, especially when it comes to attracting more students.

The October report reveled that Tech needs to increase its student enrollment to 1,800 students to become self-sufficient. About 1,200 students are enrolled right now.

She intends to visit high schools all over the state to make sure students know Tech is still afloat.

“I think sometimes when students are considering going to school, Tech has not been one of their choices and now we need to make sure that Tech becomes one of their choices and hopefully it is their final choice,” Long said.

Large universities aren’t for everyone, and Long hopes to reach high school students who would be more comfortable on a smaller campus.

“Every student doesn’t need or want to go to a large institution and that’s perfectly fine,” she said. “We get students here that are excellent, but they want a small, rural, intimate atmosphere and I think it’s important that we preserve that because it is vitally important that every student in West Virginia get the opportunity to go to college or advance their degree in some way and that they have a place where they feel comfortable.

“So, one scenario does not fit everybody and Tech is just one of those alternatives that I feel is important,” Long said.

The report also noted that Tech finished with a $7 million cash deficit for fiscal year 2011. The school also had a negative cash balance for the previous 18 months, except for August 2010.

Long said she intends to work with the Higher Education Policy Commission and state lawmakers to get more funding for the school.

“We certainly need some extra money – the report made that very clear – but again, we have to be respectful of our other institutions and we have to understand that all of us have our problems and therefore along with asking we also are going to step up to the plate and do a much better job ourselves by making sure students out there know that Tech is here, Tech is here to stay, and everyday we’re going to find ways to make it better,” Long said.

For the past three years, Tech has also received between $2.5 and $3 million every year from WVU along with some in-kind services. Tech holds up its end of the bargain by providing some expertise from their engineering department.

Long says she will try to ensure that some funding continues to flow from WVU, but would like to eventually see Tech be less reliant on its mother-campus financially.

“We believe that we probably have not said enough about the wonderful things that go on at Tech,” she said, “and as Tech grows – and it is going to grow – I really believe that our reliance on that extra money from WVU will shrink and we will eventually … be able to be an institution that will always be asking WVU for some things because they are one of our divisional campuses, but we won’t be relying on them making us solvent,” Long said.

Recruiting more students isn’t the only way to remedy Tech’s financial situation. It has to do a better job of retaining students, too. Of its 2009 freshmen class, only 44 percent remain at the school, according to the October report.

The October report was also critical of Tech’s football program, which took up almost 11 percent of Tech’s entire budget and generated relatively little revenue.

Despite dissolving its football program, Long said Tech still has a bright future in terms of its athletics.

Since arriving on campus, she has been to several basketball games. She met with baseball coach Lawrence Nesselrodt Friday.

The school also still offers soccer, cross-country, golf, wrestling, volleyball and softball.

“I certainly know there has been a lot of concern that Tech’s football team has gone away, which it has, but again we have some wonderful athletes on this campus and we need to look at those athletes and support them,” she said.

Long would also like to see some improvements to Tech’s residence halls. Maclin Hall has been renovated. Long would like to see improvements at Ratliff Hall, but said funding could be an issue.

She also would like to see more accessible Wi-Fi access on campus.

“We have one residence hall that has been renovated and it’s quite nice considering it is a residence hall, again as I have told somebody it is a residence hall, not the Marriott,” Long said.

Long doesn’t have any concrete plans for the campus as of yet. A welcome reception is being held today for her to meet more students, faculty and staff.

Long’s contract ends June 30, 2012, but her contract can be extended.

“We have problems just like everyone else and we’re working on them,” she said.