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Higher ed forums allow for budget discussion

LIKE every other state-supported institution of higher education and many state agencies, Marshall University is facing a potential 7.5 percent cut in state funding next fiscal year. This follows a 7.5 percent budget cut in the current budget year.

Budget cuts in successive years are not easy. So, how is the university handling the potential cut? Raising tuition and fees? Cutting department budgets? Downsizing? Layoffs?

Its response remains to be determined, but the one thing the state's second largest university is doing is sharing information about its financial outlook and seeking input from its stakeholders: students, employees, parents and the community.

What a thought: seeking input from the public before making crucial decisions. Perhaps other publicly funded organizations can model Marshall's behavior.

To be sure, the three higher education forums sponsored by Marshall this week — Monday in Point Pleasant, Tuesday in Huntington and Thursday in South Charleston — are as much a call for public support for new revenue from the state as they are forums to seek ideas on how to deal with reduced funds. Titled "The Future of Public Funding in West Virginia Higher Education," the forums were moderated by West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Beth Vorhees and featured several lawmakers as panelists.

Still, Marshall should be credited with airing the situation for all the stakeholders to hear and discuss in an open public forum. This helps build community awareness and support. Assuming the budget cuts from the state do come again next year, there should be no surprises to affected parties, be they students with tuition increases, staff with department cuts, or legislators.

Perhaps the Kanawha County Board of Education and the Library Board would be having less of a fight on their hands in Saturday's levy election had they sponsored such an open public discussion in various venues before unexpectedly announcing a new, larger levy proposal.

Perhaps President Obama and Democrats who drafted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would be having an easier time now had they sought greater public input and discussion instead of ramming through a major new government program while they had a tenuous majority in Congress.

Institutions who depend on public funds can't just make arbitrary decisions on how to spend or cut their budgets without seeking input from those who supply their funds — mainly the taxpayers.

Good work by Marshall President Stephen J. Kopp and the university in involving their stakeholders.


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