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Leader moves university in new direction

It's been a whirlwind 18 months for West Virginia State University.

After serving as university president for decades, Hazo Carter announced in summer of 2011 he would leave the post. The announcement came after a vote of no confidence by the school's faculty.

After an extended search, State decided to hire Brian Hemphill as its new leader. Leaving an administrative position with Northern Illinois University, Hemphill pledged to make the changes necessary to stymie State's enrollment decline and bolster its budget.

Hemphill has charged ahead with a variety of initiatives since taking the reins in July 2012. The initiatives focus mainly on fundraising, recruitment, retention and infrastructure.

Budget problems were one of the main reasons Carter fell out of favor at State - in 2010 the school had a $3.5 million deficit. While Melvin Jones, vice president for business and finance, played a key role in tightening the budget, Hemphill instituted a 4 percent budget cut as soon as he took over.

He's sought new money as well. Highlighted by a $1 million anonymous donation and a $300,000 gift from American Electric Power, close to $1.8 million has been given to State since July. That's more than three times the amount the school had received in donations at the same point last year.

A lot of that money is coming in for a very simple reason: the school is tapping its alumni base.

"The answer I gave the committee this morning is, 'We have more people giving because we're asking.' It's pretty simple," Pat Schumann, the person Hemphill hired to head fundraising efforts, told the Daily Mail in January.

That money is being spent on renovations and new construction projects State hopes will help its retention and recruitment rates.

Half of the $1 million gift is slated for a new sports complex that will house locker rooms, workout facilities and more. The school is also working on building a new student housing facility, in a public-private partnership.

Miami-based Mantra will fund the roughly $19 million project, receiving rental fees from State once it's complete. The complex will offer close to 300 suite-style rooms, and is scheduled to open by the fall of 2014.

Hemphill hopes these measures encourage students to come to State and stay until they graduate. Retention is an issue at all West Virginia universities and colleges, but especially so at State: when Hemphill started, 55 percent of freshmen were returning for their second year and less than a quarter were graduating in six years.   

Enrollment was up 7.5 percent for the school in 2012, and Hemphill anticipates continued success.

"We emphasize student-centered service in every interaction, inside and outside the classroom, and have told our students from their first day on campus that we expect every one of them to graduate," Hemphill said in a September press release.

The university continues to plan fundraising and recruiting events. More information is available at its redesigned website,

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at


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