Wesleyan president: Free 2-year college shouldn’t hurt enrollment


Joel Thierstein says Wesleyan experience differs from community college

BUCKHANNON — West Virginia Wesleyan College’s president says a bill that would allow students to attend community and technical college for free should not adversely affect enrollment at WVWC.

Senate Bill 284 would provide tuition grants for students pursuing two-year degrees at state community and technical colleges provided certain conditions are met, such as maintaining a 2.0 grade point average and performing community service.

While declining enrollment was one of the reasons Wesleyan eliminated nearly 30 faculty and staff positions earlier this fall, president Dr. Joel Thierstein said the school should not be too concerned about the bill currently moving through the legislature. In fact, he said allowing more students to attain a higher education degree is good for the state.

“One of the things that is really important to all the people of West Virginia, and myself included, is access to college,” Thierstein said. “Things that make access to college easier are wonderful.”

President Barack Obama first proposed the idea of free community college during his State of the Union address in 2015. While reaction from the education community was positive, there were also concerns about how the proposal might affect traditional four-year institutions.

Thierstein feels private higher education schools like Wesleyan offer a fundamentally different experience from a community college.

“We have a residential model,” he said. “It’s a completely different educational experience. Also, from a private school prospective, we don’t offer two-year degrees here. There’s no competitive disadvantage. So, it’s probably not going to affect us very much.”

When Wesleyan announced staff cuts this fall, Thierstein pointed to a smaller pool of West Virginia students and increased competition from online schools as ongoing concerns.

The small Buckhannon school is still evaluating what changes can be made to better fit in the evolving education landscape and plans to offer an online nursing degree.

“One of the impacts of [online] education is that it diminishes the pool of students,” he said. “But because of what they offer and what we offer is a completely different experience, it’s not a tremendous concern either. It’s a much different educational experience.”

An online college degree appeals to adult learners who can’t take four years to go to school, according to Thierstein.

“They want to take eight or 10 years and do it part-time and have a job somewhere,” he said. “Those people can’t travel to Buckhannon, so the online college makes sense for them.”

But Thierstein said there are also adult students who want the four-year experience they didn’t get to have as a young adult.

The Wesleyan board of trustees voted in December to launch a Doctor of Nursing Practice that will be online.

“It is designed specifically to give students who are working in that field an opportunity to advance their credentials,” Thierstein said. “We are trying to meet the demand, because there is such a huge demand for nurses, not only in West Virginia, but in the country as a whole.”

According to Thierstein, there is a movement within the nursing community to move nurses with two-year degrees to four-year degrees, and nurses with master’s degrees to the Doctor of Nursing Practice, by 2025.

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