CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- The "Bucks for Brains" program launched by then-Gov. Joe Manchin in 2008 got off to a slow start because of the Great Recession but still promises to meet its goals of strengthening the state's research universities and creating jobs, according to program insiders.
Manchin proposed Bucks for Brains in his 2008 State of the State address after learning about a similar program at the University of Kentucky.
"West Virginia must be a player in the 21st century world economy, and to do so we need to develop more intellectual and financial capital," Manchin said. The Bucks for Brains program would achieve both of those goals, he said, "by leveraging smart, interconnected investments in economic development, higher education and workforce training."
On Manchin's recommendation, the Legislature set aside $50 million in state surplus money to create a fund for the state's two research universities, West Virginia University and Marshall University.
The money would "stimulate world-class research and development and attract venture capital, which will eventually lead to jobs in emerging high-tech, high-wage industries," Manchin said. "The state's investment will be matched, dollar for dollar, by private donations, resulting in sizable funds that will strengthen our most promising research departments, ultimately leading to business spin-offs, new patents and job creation."
The Legislature allocated $35 million for WVU and $15 million for Marshall University. The schools could tap the state money if they could raise matching funds within five years.
If all of the state money is matched, the program will total $100 million, with $70 million for WVU and $30 million for Marshall.
The Great Recession began just as the program was launched. That hampered the ability of universities to attract private donors. Consequently, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked the Legislature to extend the deadline for universities to come up with matching funds from 2013 to 2015. The Legislature passed the extension in March.
Dr. Paul Hill of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission oversees the program. The extension was made "because fundraising over the past couple of years has not been easy to do," he said. "Also, finding donors with specific interests in specific areas is tedious.
"From my perspective, it (attracting donors) has picked up recently as the economy seems to have been getting better," Hill said.
Marshall has attracted $8 million in gifts so far. West Virginia University has attracted $18.9 million.
The universities are allowed to draw the state money as soon as they have a commitment from a private donor, even though the commitment may only be a pledge. The universities must receive all of the pledged money by July 1, 2015. If they don't, they have to give back the state match.
The biggest donation to Marshall came just last month when the Cline Family Foundation, established by coal operator Christopher Cline, pledged $5 million to support new faculty and scientists in what the university calls a "sports medicine translational research center."
The center will be built in a multipurpose indoor practice complex Marshall plans to build with money from other sources. The university is "still defining exactly what the new sports medicine translational research center will look like," Marshall spokeswoman Ginny Painter said in an email.