West Virginia's workforce faces difficult challenges, despite having its lowest unemployment rate in a decade in August 2019. Its workforce participation rate is only 55 percent, the lowest in the country. And though the state's economy is growing, employers cite the lack of qualified, educated workers as a primary obstacle to growth.
According to West Virginia Commerce, the state's labor market research organization, six of the 10 fastest-growing occupations in West Virginia require some level of postsecondary education beyond high school. This supports research that says most of West Virginia's fastest-growing and most in-demand careers will require some college credential in the next decade.
West Virginia colleges that offer online degree programs could be key to meeting this workforce demand, while also setting up a better economic future for the state's residents. The following guide will show you how.
Why Earn an Online Degree in West Virginia?
According to a report from the Lumina Foundation, only about one-third of West Virginians (36.4 percent) currently possess some college certificate or other high-quality credential -- significantly behind the national average of 47.6 percent. This lack of education has repercussions on the state's ability to grow today's fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs. This may contribute to the state's 19.1 percent poverty level, the fourth highest in the nation.
The Mountain State's education leaders have come together to establish West Virginia's Climb, an educational initiative with a goal of 60 percent postsecondary attainment in the state by the year 2030. The educational attainment gap is already having repercussions in the state, where 45 percent of employers cite finding qualified workers as a major barrier to business.
Online degrees in West Virginia enable students to complete courses from anywhere with an Internet connection — helpful for the roughly 38 percent of residents living in rural areas without colleges — and they may do so at times that are convenient for their schedules, as long as the work is submitted on time. West Virginians working unconventional shift times or multiple jobs may find this particularly helpful.
Not only that, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as a worker's level of education rises, so too does the worker's income, while the rate of unemployment lowers. In a state where poverty and unemployment are high, online education could be an important solution.
Top 10 West Virginia Colleges that Offer Online Degree Programs
Whether you're a fresh-out-of-high-school graduate, a shift worker looking to upgrade your career with a degree or a professional wishing to advance your credentials with a graduate degree, you'll have specific needs for online college you're considering. Using information from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), including graduation rates, tuitions, student support services and more, we've created this list of the top 10 West Virginia colleges that offer online degree programs to help in your search.
Top Online Degree Programs in West Virginia
The following list of the top online degree programs in West Virginia is drawn from data from the NCES' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and is based on the number of online degrees in West Virginia colleges, which may include both fully online and combined online/on-campus hybrid programs.
Quality of Online Education in West Virginia
Making sure that West Virginians are earning degrees of quality that truly contribute to the state's economy and the prosperity of its citizens is a priority for state education leaders. For this reason, they have taken several steps to ensure quality. Among these is participation in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), an agreement among member states that establishes comparable national standards for distance education, allowing students to complete online courses across state lines while earning credit at their home schools.
Additionally, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission of West Virginia has developed the West Virginia Remote Online Collaborative Knowledge System (WVROCKS) to benefit adult learners by providing expanded access to online bachelor's degrees in a compressed, eight-week time frame. Even better, these courses all are designed in accordance with standards set by Quality Matters (QM), a nonprofit, quality assurance organization for distance education.
Individual schools are taking steps to assure quality as well. For example, West Virginia Northern Community College is an affiliate of QM, and all its online courses undergo rigorous peer review to ensure they meet QM standards.
Be sure to check with prospective West Virginia colleges that offer online degree programs to determine what steps they've taken to ensure quality.
What to Look for in Online Degree Programs in West Virginia
Depending on your particular circumstances, it can be difficult to know which online degree program to choose. According to The New York Times, in addition to logistics about credentials and certifications offered, here are some things you should consider when you're weighing your options for online education in West Virginia:
Course Delivery: Some programs may be labeled "online," but on closer inspection you'll find that the program is a hybrid, meaning that it combines both online and on-campus courses. Within an individual course, you may even be required to make on-campus appearances one or more times throughout the session. Additionally, while many online courses are delivered asynchronously meaning that there is no real-time instruction requiring you to log on at a particular time, some courses may have synchronous components. You'll need to consider your own scheduling and proximity constraints before selecting any program.
Program Engagement and Interaction: Reach out to students, faculty and administrators to ask about how much peer-to-peer and faculty-to-student interaction is typical in the program. Are you the type of student who requires a high degree of interaction and support? A large program with high student-to-faculty ratios may mean you could struggle to get the attention you need.
Student Support: Many schools offer support services that help students to be successful in their programs. This may be especially important if you've been away from school for a while or have external factors that are affecting your studies. Services offered may include tutoring, writing and math center help, counseling, advisement and career planning resources.
Top Occupations in West Virginia
The following list of the top occupations in West Virginia was developed using information from the BLS. It's intended to help you focus your studies on in-demand fields in the state.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||93,630||$34,470|
|Sales and Related Occupations||64,430||$31,610|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||63,970||$23,630|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||59,050||$34,790|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||58,590||$69,970|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||49,250||$49,660|
|Educational Instruction and Library Occupations||43,900||$43,630|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||35,430||$43,520|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||33,860||$26,090|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||24,750||$62,270|
|Fast Food and Counter Workers||22,970||$21,160|
|Building and Grounds Cleaning and Maintenance Occupations||21,190||$27,440|
Top Metropolitan Areas in West Virginia
In West Virginia, the energy sector — oil and natural gas, pipeline construction and the coal — is where the bulk of the recent job growth in the state has been concentrated. The state sits in the heart of the Marcellus, Rogersville and Utica shale formations where oil and natural gas are abundant.
As coal is rapidly declining, the jobs projected to see the largest employment growth between now and 2026 are largely in the health care and construction sectors.
Here are three of the 10 largest metro areas in West Virginia, as well as where their jobs are concentrated:
Charleston: Situated ideally within an overnight drive of half the U.S. population and home to three interstates, Charleston is ideal as a transportation hub for water, rail, air and highway travel and distribution. Charleston is the county seat of Kanawha County and the state capital, so its employment makeup is largely concentrated in government; education and health services; and trade, transportation and utilities occupations.
Beckley: Straddling Raleigh and Fayette counties, Beckley is known as the cheapest place in the U.S. to own a home, with the nation's lowest crime rate. It's in the Appalachian Mountains, meaning that tourism is a primary economic driver, as is coal, being home to a coal mine. It's also home to West Virginia Tech and other colleges as well as several hospitals, making it a health care and education hub. Sales, food, health care, transportation/material moving and education occupations employ the greatest number of residents.
Morgantown: Located along the border of Pennsylvania, Morgantown, in Monongalia County, has been one of the few cities in the state to remain economically diverse and see consistent population growth. As home to West Virginia University, the city benefits from a pool of recent graduates who choose to remain and work here. WVU is the largest employer in the city and state, and because it's a Big 12 Conference school, tourism is a major sector here as well. The BLS says healthcare, food-related and education jobs all employ the greatest numbers of residents.
Scholarships and Financial Aid in West Virginia
Because of the state's high poverty rate and low college-attainment rate, the state's leaders have established a number of innovative solutions to take away the barrier of affordability, including these need-based grant programs:
WV Invests Grant: One of the nation's growing number of "free community college" measures, this program provides last-dollar funding for an associate degree or training certificate — students use federal and/or state grant awards first, and the WV Invests funding covers the remaining tuition and fees for West Virginia community or technical colleges. Students must meet certain criteria, including passing a drug test.
Higher Education Grant Program: This need-based award program is designed to provide low-income West Virginians with access to higher education. Degree-seeking students may receive up to $2,700 per year, to attend bachelor's degree programs full time at West Virginia or Pennsylvania colleges.
Higher Education Adult Part-time Student Program: Otherwise known as HEAPS, this need-based grant encourages students with financial need to attend college part time at a public or private West Virginia college or career/technical school.
Your first step to determining your eligibility for these and any other grant or scholarship programs is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The College Foundation of West Virginia (CFWV), through its CFWV Connect website, offers help with completing the FAFSA, in addition to an array of other services to assist students with applying to and paying for college.
Tests You May Need to Take
Though there is no one required college admissions test required by all West Virginia colleges that offer online degree programs, you're likely to see individual schools requesting scores from the SAT or ACT as part of their admissions requirements, but in some cases they may only be recommended (not required). And still other schools don't need them at all. West Virginia University and West Liberty University, for example, require either an SAT or ACT score, whereas Salem University has an open admissions policy that requires no test score. Be sure to check with your prospective schools to learn about their individual requirements.
To be included in our ranking of the best colleges for online degree programs, all colleges had to meet the following five criteria:
- Be an accredited U.S. institution
- Offer either 2- or 4-year degree programs
- Have at least 1 percent of students taking at least some of their classes via distance education
- Be active in the 2015-16 school year
- Report data for all 15 specific ranking variables included in our methodology
We then ranked the remaining 2,169 colleges and universities and scored each on a 100-point scale on these specific. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average amount of federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Full-time Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Open admissions policy for all or most entering first-time undergraduate-level students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Offers credit for military training
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- Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sept. 4, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education.htm
- May 2018 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 29, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm
- West Virginia, Rural Health Information Hub, Jan. 3, 2019, https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/states/west-virginia
- West Virginia's progress toward the goal, A Stronger Nation, Lumina Foundation, February 2019, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/2019/#state/WV
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- Hillary Hoffower, "What life is really like in the cheapest place in the US, where the typical home costs $110,000 and the Appalachian Mountains are in your backyard," Business Insider, May 20, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/beckley-west-virginia-life-cheapest-place-us-2019-2
- Brittany Murray, "Diversification Keeps Morgantown, Monongalia County Economy Thriving," The State Journal, Feb. 12, 2017, https://www.wvnews.com/statejournal/news/diversification-keeps-morgantown-monongalia-county-economy-thriving/article_3e1b4cee-216a-52d6-b6e8-c4af1536346d.html
- How Does WVROCKS Work?, West Virginia Remote Online Collaborative Knowledge System, accessed Sept. 25, 2019, http://webhost-wp.wvnet.edu/wvrocks/
- West Virginia's Climb, accessed Sept. 25, 2019, http://wvclimb.com/
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- State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, accessed Sept. 25, 2019, http://www.wvhepc.edu/inside-the-commission/special-initiatives/state-authorization-reciprocity-agreement-sara/
- Quality Matters, West Virginia Northern Community College, accessed Sept. 25, 2019, https://www.wvncc.edu/programs/quality-matters/6641
- Kerry Hannon, "Choosing the Best Online Program for You," The New York Times, Aug. 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/education/learning/choosing-best-online-program.html
- About, CFWV Connect, accessed Sept. 25, 2019, http://www.cfwvconnect.com/about/
- Kelley Czajka, "West Virginia will now provide free community college tuition if students can pass a drug test," Pacific Standard, July 1, 2019, https://psmag.com/news/west-virginia-will-now-provide-free-community-college-tuition-if-students-can-pass-a-drug-test
- WV Invests Grant, West Virginia Community and Technical College System, accessed Sept. 25, 2019, https://wvctcs.org/wv-invests-grant
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