By L. Marshall Washington, PhD,
President, New River Community
and Technical College
New River Community and Technical College has embarked on an exciting partnership with the Nicholas County Building Commission to construct a new 48,000 square-foot-facility in the Glade Creek Business Park in Summersville. The new building will allow us to greatly expand programming and services for our students.
Two recent articles in the State Journal have referenced this project, but unfortunately they contained confusing, misleading and at times totally inaccurate information about the College’s financial situation. The information was provided by Kenneth Culp, a retired accountant with no ties to the College who is in opposition to the Nicholas County project. Although the headline on the first article, dated Mar. 21-27, proclaimed “New River CTC Takes Another Look at Its Finances,” we provided no information and were not contacted by the paper before the article ran.
At our request, the Journal ran a follow-up story in the Mar. 28 – Apr. 3 paper. It is very important that we get the record straight, because the Nicholas County project and others underway at the College have the potential to have a tremendous impact on the economic wellbeing of our students and the communities we serve. We cannot afford for our stakeholders to have any doubts about its validity.
The information provided by Mr. Culp was gleaned from a variety of materials obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. He chose to present only information that could be interpreted in a negative light, and he often presented it out of context, in some cases presenting numbers from a feasibility study as if they were final figures from a financial statement.
The most egregious error in the report was the statement that in 2012 the College’s operating expenses were $21.4 million, with an operating loss of $18 million. In fact, operating revenues for 2012 were $7.8 million. Operating expenses were $21.4 million, resulting in an operating loss of $13.6 million, not $18 million. What Mr. Culp failed to mention was that non-operating revenue of $5.6 million, combined with Pell grant revenue of $7.4 million, produced an additional $13 million in income. When those figures are factored in, the actual operating loss was just over $525,000. This operating loss was a strategic decision made by New River to use reserve funds for projects and initiatives. A better representation of the financial health of the College is a comparison of the total net position at the end of fiscal year 2012, which was $18.8 million, versus the position at the end of FY 2013, $20.8 million.
The article also implied that New River distributed more than $4 million in financial aid directly to students, and that very few of those students graduate. Under federal guidelines, financial aid distributions do not go directly to students. The funds come directly to the College, which applies them to tuition and fees for students who qualify for aid. Once the students’ financial obligations to the College are covered, the remainder of the money is distributed to students in the form checks that are issued only after we have confirmed that they are attending classes.
Like community and technical colleges across the nation, New River CTC is working hard to increase its graduation and completion rates. There are many factors which hinder our progress in that area. One is the fact that reporting on graduation rates does not take into account those students who only want to obtain a skill set or certificate that will enable them to quickly get training that will improve their chances of getting a good job. Others come to us to take general education courses before transferring to a four-year college. We have students who enroll in technical programs such as line service mechanic and are hired before they complete the program. In our hearts and minds, we feel that we have served those students successfully, because our mission is to help them get an education that will get them a job. However, that success is not reflected in graduation statistics.
New River CTC, like all other public institutions of higher learning in West Virginia, is struggling to absorb budget cuts imposed by the legislature. Even so, we are good stewards of the limited funds we have available. With the help of grants and innovative partnerships like the one in Nicholas County, we are still able to grow our programs and facilities to provide relevant educational opportunities that will put people to work.
The Nicholas County project will enable us to add programs like culinary arts, hospitality and tourism, welding, renewable energy, cosmetology, CDL and line service mechanic. These, along with the strong allied health programs already in place, will prepare students for jobs that are available locally or at least within West Virginia.
The financing of the Nicholas County project is an example of how we are building innovative partnerships to allow us to move ahead with projects we cannot pursue on our own. The Nicholas County Building Commission has received a USDA Rural Development grant which will finance the construction of the new facility. New River CTC will enter into a lease/purchase agreement with the Commission that will have to be approved by the Attorney General. The College will use an already approved state appropriation of $300,000 per year to pay down the loan. Additionally, we will be able to free up over $100,000 per year that we are currently paying to lease space in Nicholas County, and that can also be applied to the project.
The Nicholas County Commission and the City of Summersville are supportive of the project, and we are working closely with the Region 4 Planning and Development Council to bring it about. The bottom line is that this project will give our students, faculty and the community in our region the facilities they need and deserve.