Budget shortfalls have forced state lawmakers to consider overhauling West Virginia’s higher education system with the possible result that Lewisburg’s West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) may soon become a private, nonprofit school. A bill drafted by Sen. Craig Blair, (R-Berkeley), would allow WVSOM to go from being a public college to a private one.
“If they chose to move forward with that, we’d be supportive because we want to do what’s best for West Virginia,” said Dr. Michael Adelman, president of WVSOM. “We know that there are budget issues out there. Public and private really has to do more with who’s paying for some of the dollars. And we don’t really get a lot from the state anyway, so the culture will not change,” Adelman said in a press interview. “The school, fortunately, is strong.”
This year, the state gave the school about $6.9 million, according to Jessica Kennedy, a spokeswoman for the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission. The school’s appropriations have been dipping slowly since 2012, when WVSOM received nearly $8.2 million.
Most of the state money goes to keeping tuition costs low for in-state students, Adelman said. How the change-over would impact students and tuition costs are being looked at by the board of governors, including the potential of a scholarship fund. “The only change we can foresee is the tuition. Most osteopathic schools are private colleges that blend the tuition costs between in-state and out-of-state students.
WVSOM currently has more than 800 medical students enrolled. Incoming first-year medical students from West Virginia can expect to pay about $21,500 in tuition, in addition to other related fees and living expenses. Out-of-state students will pay nearly $53,000 in tuition their first year.
For now, WVSOM’s Board of Governors is waiting for action from the Legislature before making any moves. The board approved a resolution at its June meeting that supported the idea to go private. Whether WVSOM stays a public university or not, Adelman said he and the school are fully prepared for a switch.
Adelman also noted that the change would have no effect on the faculty or employees at the school. They are covered by Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA-CREF), an investment company which holds pensions that serve teachers, museums and libraries and other non-profit organizations. Health insurance, which currently comes through the state (PEIA), would likely have to switch to a private insurance company, which the school can buy into.
“Our goal at WVSOM is to make sure to protect the faculty employees, and to stay strong in the community,” Adelman said in a phone interview with the Mountain Messenger.