25 Jun

Charleston Daily Mail – Tuesday, June 24, 2014

by Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

Students graduating from West Virginia University Institute of Technology can expect an average 20-year return on investment of more than $450,000.

The Montgomery school was recently recognized by Payscale’s 2014 College Return on Investment Report and ranked in the top 10 percent of public schools across the country for students paying in-state tuition. Tech graduates have the highest overall return on investment of any school in West Virginia. Payscale collects and reviews compensation data and releases an annual report ranking institutions based on financial gains graduates can expect to see with a bachelor’s degree from that college or university.

Jen Wood Cunningham, interim director of university relations for WVU-Tech, said the high return on investment is because of two things.

“Our cost of attendance is really low, especially for the value of the degrees they receive,” Cunningham said. “Our degrees are really sought after by employers in the industries, especially the STEM fields. We really attribute that to low cost of attendance and the quality of education they receive and (graduates) having an employable degree to get a high paying job after they graduate.”

WVU-Tech has a long tradition of educating engineering students, and that’s reflected in the Payscale data. According to the report, Tech graduates average a starting salary of $52,200 and most pursue degrees in chemical, electrical, software and project engineering. Careers in those fields pay a median of $55,000 or more.

Cunningham said students pursuing those types of degrees from Tech are at an advantage. The school partners with employers for a cooperative education program as well as internships.

“We’ve been told by employers that with our graduates, they don’t have to do a 2-3 year training program to get them where they need to be,” Cunningham said. “Our graduates are ready when they graduate. They’re ready to start day one.”

Tech has made strides in recent years to revitalize both student services and its physical appearance. The revitalization plan was put in action after a 2011 report to the state Legislature criticized academic, structural and financial issues with the school. Since then, millions of dollars have been spent to improve the campus, including adding wireless Internet and a Student Success Center. Carolyn Long, WVU-Tech president, said those improvements have helped create an environment where students can reach their potential.

“This report shows what we already know — that an education from WVU-Tech is a worthwhile endeavor,” she said in a news release. “Our graduates are seeing more than financial benefits. Our students are educated in an inclusive and supportive environment that creates knowledgeable and civic-minded graduates.”

WVU ranked second on the list, with an ROI of 8.8 percent for in-state students, Fairmont State University ranked third with 6.3 percent, Marshall University ranked fourth at 5.7 percent and West Liberty State University rounded out the list at 5.2 percent return on investment for in-state students. Return on investment for out-of-state students is ranked somewhat differently, with WVU-Tech and WVU coming in at first and second with 8.1 and 5.9 percent, respectively, Fairmont State at 4.7 percent, Marshall at 3.8 percent and West Liberty at 2.4 percent.

Cunningham said she wants prospective students, parents and potential donors who analyze the report to know that a good education is available at Tech.

“I think the main takeaway is our school is providing a high quality education in West Virginia for students to compete globally within the STEM fields and a variety of other fields including forensic investigation and criminal justice,” she said.

“We really want to make sure we’re showing we’re part of the WVU system. We were No. 1 and WVU was No. 2. between the two of us, the WVU system is the highest level of return on investment you can get in West Virginia.”

Article on Charleston Daily Mail http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20140624/DM01/140629648/1276

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