WV colleges don’t have much cash on hand

Jake Jarvis , Staff writer

 

The commission that oversees West Virginia’s four-year colleges breezed through its agenda Monday morning, reauthorizing every school up for review, approving every school’s budget and approving a handful of requests for tuition increases.

But during Monday’s meeting at BridgeValley Community and Technical College, staff members of the Higher Education Policy Commission warned that, by at least one indicator of a school’s financial strength, many schools appear to be weakening.

Several schools had less than two months of cash on hand at the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Ed Magee, the commission’s vice chancellor for finance, said schools should have at least two months of cash on hand, at minimum, but a healthy institution would have upward of half a year.

“I think the institutions need to have reserves to deal with the circumstances that are happening in higher education regarding the appropriation reductions,” Magee said. So if a school would have to undergo another mid-year cut to its appropriations, like all state agencies had to do in 2015, they wouldn’t be caught shorthanded.

This year, for the first time, the commission required schools to submit snapshots of how much cash they had on hand on April 30 and June 30 in the previous fiscal year (2015), compared to how much cash they had on hand on April 30 of this year and how much cash they’d projected to have by the end of June.

Glenville State College projected to have only 13 days of cash on hand, as of June 30, the lowest of all the schools under the commission’s watch. This was a small decline from when the school had 21 days of cash on hand for the same day in 2015.

Administrators at Glenville State have started trying to shore up their savings. With a 2 percent increase in revenue and an 11 percent slash to the school’s salaries and wages, Glenville State should end this fiscal year with 4 percent more than it did last year.

Representatives from Glenville State were unavailable for comment Monday because the people who are familiar with the details of the school’s finances were on vacation, according to Dustin Crutchfield, a spokesman for the school.

A recent move to refinance some of Glenville State’s bonds for lower rates will help the school’s overall financial outlook, the HEPC staff said.

Bluefield State College’s cash on hand was the second lowest, with only a projected 14 days of reserve.

Jim Nelson, spokesman for the school, said Bluefield State actually came in a little better than the projection, ending the year with about 17 days of cash on hand.

Nelson said his school expected to see dips in its cash reserve near the end of June, since the school relies heavily on tuition money, and only a relatively low number of students take summer classes there.

Still, a school with a healthy financial outlook would have at least two months of cash on reserve even when tuition dollars aren’t rolling in.

Magee said the HEPC also is concerned about Concord University and West Virginia State University, which projected to end June with 43 and 28 days of cash on hand, respectively.

Other schools, like Shepherd University and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, which projected 127 and 211 days of cash on hand, respectively, are less of a concern because they surpass the commission’s suggested minimums.

Unlike the meeting Friday where five community colleges asked their own oversight board for large tuition increases, West Liberty University was the only school to ask HEPC commissioners for an increase. The commission approved its request for a 12.2 percent tuition increase for in-state students enrolled in WLU’s nursing program, a 9.1 tuition increase for in-state students enrolled in its College of Science (excluding the nursing and dental hygiene program) and a 13 percent increase for its RN to BSN nursing program.

“Because we have moved some fees into the tuition number, our tuition increase for next year may appear larger than it is for some programs,” said Stephen Greiner, WLU’s president, in a prepared statement. He went on to say that, “by rearranging the fees, our tuition number is more inclusive. This is important to our students as they plan and budget for college.”

Also Monday, the commission unanimously approved Gordon Gee’s contract to remain as West Virginia University’s president for five years. WVU’s Board of Governors, in late May, recommended the contract, citing Gee’s energetic presence on campus and his work to increase enrollment numbers.

The details of the contract were not released because it had not been fully executed, according to John Bolt, a WVU spokesman. The contract still needed to be signed by HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill and Gee, whom Bolt said was not in town Monday.

The commission also approved Pete Barr’s contract to be Glenville State’s president. The details of that contract also were not made available Monday.

Reach Jake Jarvis at jake.jarvis@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-7939 or follow @NewsroomJake on Twitter.