To illustrate West Virginia University's journey last year, President James P. Clements used the solar decathlon team's construction of a safe, environmentally friendly log home as a metaphor for the University's progress.
One of 20 college teams selected to take part in the U.S. Department of Energy's competition of making an energy-efficient solar house, the WVU team that had never before built a house fought a stormy summer to create the university's first entry into the competition.
As Clements applauded the members of the Decathlon team in the audience, he said although it was only one part of university activity last year, it symbolized the university's role.
"This project goes to the heart of what WVU is all about," Clements said. "That's
taking an interdisciplinary approach to meeting the needs of the state, the
nation and the world."
Clements acknowledged the significant budget challenges facing the state and the university system, but he also pointed to other avenues of support and how WVU has managed to use its resources wisely.
As WVU prepares for the $13 million state budget reduction and other losses in the 2014 Fiscal Year, budget priorities will be guided by several factors, including WVU's core academic mission and 2020 strategic plan, he said. Campus infrastructure improvements, both technology and facilities, and a desire to give raises in Fiscal Year 2015 are other driving factors.
"The people at WVU are our most important asset that we have, and we want to retain and recruit the best," Clements said. "We simply have to move toward nationally competitive salaries if we are to deliver on our mandate for quality education, innovation and engagement needed to serve 55 counties across the state."
All in all, WVU receives less funding per student from both tuition and state appropriations than its peer institutions, he added. Clements pointed out that the national education crisis requires that higher education institutions rise to meet the "innovation deficit" that is widening between the U.S. and other developed nations.
"The budget constraints we are all facing nationally have limited our capacity to meet our responsibilities," he said. "However, and I think all of us in this room will agree, focusing on our land-grant mission, that will make us stronger.
"For example, by maintaining the quality of our academic research and our public service programs and by providing an overall positive student experience, WVU has continued to meet our enrollment goals while attracting students of higher academic standing."
He pointed to one recent success. In a preliminary analysis for WVU's main
campus, incoming freshmen are showing significant increases in high school
GPAs, and ACT and SAT scores.
Clements highlighted the milestones that are bringing the university much closer to its 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future goals.
"Consider this troubling fact: The U.S. has fallen to 16th among developed countries in the percentage of young adults who hold a college degree," Clements said. "Also consider this fact: Over the last 10 years, R&D expenditures as a share of economic output have remained nearly constant in the U.S. but have increased by nearly 50 percent in South Korea and nearly 90 percent in China."
Clements said he was one of 200 presidents in the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities to send a letter to the White House and Congress urging federal support for research.
The University has continued to support its important land-grant mission based
on the Morrill Act signed by Abraham Lincoln, Clements said. This
coming year, the University's mission of state outreach will be underscored
with the celebration of the Smith-Lever Act, which created the Cooperative
During his address, Clements highlighted many successes.
Donors to the WVU Foundation State of Minds campaign reached the 90 percent mark of the $750 million goal with more than $670 million pledged before the December 2015 end goal.
Both Moody's and Standard and Poor's financial rating services gave the university high bond ratings for private support, diverse revenue streams, strong programs and stable enrollment.
Partnerships with Big 12 schools are growing to include student affairs and marketing efforts, faculty exchanges and research collaborations, as well as the receipt by researchers of seven Big 12 Faculty Fellowships.
In the past three years, 10 students earned Fulbright scholarships for international study compared to one WVU student Fulbright scholarship in the previous 17 years.
The university partnered with the Advanced Internet Regions consortium, to use vacant broadcast TV channels to provide the main campus and nearby areas with wireless broadband Internet service, the first university in the nation to do so.
WVU hosted national dialogues in support of the land-grant mission that included a National Research Council forum, a national panel on innovation and a National Academy of Science shale gas workshop.
WVU continues to invest in infrastructure and capital facilities with a number of new buildings, from academic programming to student health.
After detailing all of the challenges and successes of the past year, Clements
brought his speech back around to the students, especially those who built the
Solar Decathlon house.