BUCKHANNON – West Virginia Wesleyan College’s new Clinical Mental Health Counseling Master’s degree program will begin this January.
West Virginia Wesleyan College president Dr. James Moore attended the Nov. 16 Upshur County Commission meeting to discuss current events at the college — including the start of the new master’s program — as well as a few other short-term goals.
“The last time I was here, we talked about our plans to start a master’s degree program in mental health counseling, and we worked with our friends at Community Care of West Virginia on writing a curriculum for that program,” Moore said.
“They helped us to secure startup funding in the way of a project investment grant from Aetna Better Health of West Virginia to the tune of $1.2 million,” he added. “All those things lined up in a wonderful way, and I’m pleased to tell you today that we are enrolling our first cohort of students in that program, so they’ll start in January.”
The college planned to enroll a small number of students for the program’s first semester, but they have received more applications than expected.
“We hoped to enroll less than a dozen, and we’re already over that, and applications are continuing to come in, but I anticipate a much fuller class of students for the fall of 2024,” Moore said. “Once this first group graduates, we will hopefully have achieved full accreditation from the agency that accredits these degree programs, and we can begin to increase the number of students that we accept into these classes.”
The college is also working on a final draft of their facilities master plan, which they hope to complete by the end of November.
“We know our facilities are used not only by our students, faculty and staff, but also by the community and it has a community impact,” Moore said. “We have a 133-year-old campus, so you can imagine the kind of deferred maintenance that we have to deal with, and I’m very proud of the state of our campus.”
That process called for prioritization of needs, he said.
“Like every college, like every university, we have facilities we need to be focusing on for renovation, optimization, and all those things,” Moore said, “So, we’ve had a very robust process with an architectural firm out of Pittsburgh for about the last six months, and we’ve gone through this process of creating a facilities master plan so we can quantify our facilities improvement needs and begin to work on them aggressively in the way of fundraising.”
Moore also addressed a growing concern among numerous colleges – the lack of 18-year-olds attending college.
“It has been a challenge in the several years with the pandemic and with the decline in college-going 18-year-old students every year,” Moore said. “There’s a phrase we use in higher education called the ‘demographic cliff,’ and it refers to the population decline that will really come to a head in 2026. What happened in 2008? The market tanked, and a whole bunch of people like me, decided, ‘I don’t think I can afford or want to have children,’ so all those children who weren’t born in 2008 aren’t turning 18 years old in 2026.”
Moore said college administrators at Wesleyan are not surprised by this decline, and they have been preparing for some time now.
“As we get closer to that date, I want you all to know the West Virginia Wesleyan College is well-positioned to weather the challenges we know we’re going to be facing in higher ed for the next five to 10 years,” Moore said. “Last year, we had a great recruiting cycle, and we were able to welcome our largest class of first-year students since 2017 this fall.”
The college also saw about 34 students from Alderson Broaddus University transfer to WVWC after its closing.
“I think we welcomed one of the largest groups of transfer students from that institution, and the transfer students from Alderson Broaddus seem to go in groups of one dozen or two dozen students throughout the state; they sort of scattered in groups of about that size,” Moore said. “Our experience working with these students was both humbling and rewarding.”
The Wesleyan president reassured residents that the college isn’t headed for the same fate.
“I just want to make sure that I’m reassuring residents of the county, and you all as commissioners, that we’re in a strong financial position, we’re in a strong enrollment position, and our endowment is very healthy,” Moore said. “Our Board of Trustees is incredibly engaged, and it’s filled with people who have a deep history and knowledge of the college. We’re strong, we’re going to be here, we’re not going anyplace, and I just want to make sure everyone knows that.”