Although educational attainment may be on the rise in West Virginia, the number of adults with a college degree in the state is currently well below average. According to a recent report from the Lumina Foundation, only 28.4 percent of West Virginia adults ages 25-64 held at least a two-year degree in 2013 -- compared to 40 percent of adults nationwide.
The percentage of adults with a college degree in West Virginia is actually up from 2008, when only 25.6 percent of adults held a two-year degree or better. Still, West Virginia has a long way to go. In 2013, 39.13 percent of the adult population only had a high school diploma, and 19.92 percent had some college experience, but no degree. Of the West Virginia adults that did have a degree in 2013, 7.92 percent held an associate degree, 12.57 percent had their bachelor's, and 7.92 percent held a graduate or professional degree.
Fortunately, adults in West Virginia who want to further their education have plenty of colleges and universities to choose from. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 75 colleges and universities are spread across the state. While some focus only on traditional education, others offer online learning options that can make higher education more affordable and flexible. Continue reading to learn more about the educational and economic landscape in West Virginia.
Why Should I Earn a Degree in West Virginia?
In addition to its many institutions of higher education, West Virginia also offers a bustling economy with a wide range of career options. In 2014, the workforce was made up of 707,720 individuals, who earned a mean annual wage of $37,880, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Some careers for college-educated adults offered higher wages and extremely high levels of employment, however. The following chart highlights some of the top jobs for college graduates in West Virginia in 2014:
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||105,330||$32,110|
|Sales and Related Occupations||67,920||$29,830|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||63,210||$22,290|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||58,230||$68,280|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||53,350||$34,200|
|Education, Training, and Library Occupations||43,050||$45,440|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||38,620||$47,800|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||35,730||$41,790|
|Personal Care and Service Occupations||25,770||$22,730|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||22,080||$61,000|
|Office Clerks, General||21,950||$28,120|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||21,820||$27,420|
According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce, key industries in the state include advanced and alternative energy, aerospace, automotive, biometrics, biotech, business services, data centers, metals, printing, tourism development, wood products, and many others. Some employers with headquarters or factories in West Virginia include Toyota, Amazon, DuPont, Pratt & Whitney, and Lockheed Martin.
The allure of West Virginia as a business destination lies partly with its central location, but also with the cost of doing business in the state, which the West Virginia Department of Commerce says is 13 percent lower than the national average.
According to an economic outlook report from West Virginia University, the state's economy is experiencing steady growth. Some key figures from the report include:
- West Virginia's current unemployment rate is currently at its lowest since early 2009.
- Per capita personal income in West Virginia has grown rapidly over the last few years.
- The state's exports grew an average of 5.2 percent each year from 2000 to 2009.
- The state's natural resources and mining sector continues to contribute the most jobs to the state each year.
In addition to a growing economy, West Virginia also has an excellent infrastructure for higher education. Large public schools in the state include West Virginia State University, West Virginia University, Shepherd University, and Marshall University, to name just a few. Meanwhile, plenty of colleges and universities have begun offering distance learning options and online degrees to students in the state. West Virginia schools with online degree programs and hybrid options include West Virginia University, West Virginia State University, and West Virginia Northern Community College, among others.
According to Lynn Reinke, Director of Communications at West Virginia University, online education is important in West Virginia -- but not necessarily for the reasons you would think. Instead of breaking down geographic barriers to higher education, in West Virginia, online education is more about spreading educational access to those who live in poverty. On a national level, says Reinke, West Virginia usually ranks at the bottom in terms of income.
"Online learning has the potential to boost the college graduation rate because it makes education more accessible and sometimes more affordable," she says. "While the tuition is the same, students who can't afford to move will be able to work on their degrees in their hometowns."
What Makes West Virginia Ideal for Online Education?
As Lynne Reinke of West Virginia University noted, distance learning in West Virginia has increased educational access to poverty-stricken parts of the state. However, according to Reinke, online education has also made it possible for another demographic to pursue an education -- adult learners.
"In West Virginia, as in many states, we find that many adults prefer online education because they need the flexibility that online courses provide," says Reinke. "They're balancing jobs and families while going to school. They may be working on shifts that make it difficult to keep to a traditional college-classroom schedule."
As Reinke notes, online education can sometimes be cheaper, too. And that means more people can afford to head back to school, and fewer of them will be saddled with a mountain of student loan debt once they graduate.
The other reason online education is a great option for students in the state is because they have the opportunity to pursue an online degrees from a nationally-recognized institution, West Virginia University.
"Our students benefit from having a degree from a nationally known university -- they don't have to explain to employers what kind of school this is," says Reinke. "Their diplomas do not say it's an online degree but a degree from WVU, just like any other graduate's degree."
In summary, Reinke believes that the advent of online degrees in West Virginia will boost educational attainment over time. Because, when more people have access and the opportunity to earn a degree, the number of individuals who choose to pursue one should increase over time.
10 Featured Degrees in West Virginia
While earning a degree is almost always a good investment, some offer better prospects than others. Using wage and employment data from Workforce West Virginia, we compiled this list of featured college degrees in the state through 2022:
Demand for health care continues to rise in West Virginia, particularly the demand for ultrasound services. With a degree in sonography or diagnostic medical sonography, you may find work in this growing field. Because of the increased use of ultrasound technology in place of other more invasive procedures, West Virginia state data shows that employment of these workers could increase by as much as 3.99 percent per year through 2022. High wages also add to the value of this two-year degree. In 2014, diagnostic medical sonographers in West Virginia earned a mean annual wage of $55,740.
In order to become a licensed physical therapist, you typically need a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. However, earning a two-year degree in physical therapy assisting can also help you find entry-level work in a physical therapist's office. Due to growing demand in this field, job openings for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants in West Virginia are projected to increase 3.61 percent and 3.98 percent, respectively, each year through 2022. Meanwhile, physical therapists in the state earned a mean annual wage of $82,440 in 2014, which is much higher than the statewide average.
Majoring in audiology could lead to a job helping those with hearing loss or general ear problems and conditions. Because of the demand in this field, West Virginia data shows that employment of audiologists could increase by as much as 3.47 per year in the state through 2022. High wages also add to the value of this degree choice. As of 2014, audiologists in West Virginia earned a mean annual wage of $58,010.
Physician assistants see patients and administer health care under the supervision of a licensed doctor. With the need for qualified health professionals rising nationwide, completing a physician assistant degree program could be a particularly smart career choice. In West Virginia, employment of these professionals is projected to increase 3.42 percent per year through 2022. Even better, physician assistants earned a mean annual wage of $87,750 in the state in 2014.
Earning a degree in dental hygiene is the first step to becoming a licensed dental hygienist. Because dental care is always in demand, government data shows that job openings for dental hygienists in West Virginia could increase by as much as 3.22 percent per year through 2022. Pay is also relatively high for this two-year degree choice. In 2014, dental hygienists in West Virginia earned a mean annual wage of $54,680.
A degree in computer science can lead to a wide range of careers in technology, such as computer systems analyst, information systems analyst, computer programmer, or software developer. Some of these jobs are expected to experience considerable employment growth in West Virginia in the coming decade, particularly information security analyst, which should see 2.87 percent annual growth through 2022, and computer systems analyst, which should see 2 percent annual growth.
As with other fields in health care, the demand for occupational therapy is on the rise. Employment of occupational therapists in West Virginia, for example, is expected to increase 2.71 percent per year through 2022. To become a full-fledged occupational therapist, you typically need a graduate degree in the field. However, a two-year occupational therapy assistant program could help you get your foot in the door. Adding to the allure of this major is the high pay for both professions. As of 2014, occupational therapists in West Virginia earned a mean annual wage of $73,230, and occupational therapy assistants earned $56,940.
Majoring in mathematics could lead to a career as a logistician or statistician, two professions that are expected to see exceptional growth in West Virginia over the coming decade. According to state job data, employment of logisticians is projected to increase 2.24 percent annually through 2022, while statisticians are projected to see annual growth of 2.78 percent. Both degrees could also pay off financially. In 2014, logisticians in the state earned a mean annual wage of $63,740, and statisticians earned a mean annual wage of $60,080.
A degree in a foreign language can help prepare you for work as an interpreter or translator. Because of the influx of foreign language speakers in the United States, demand in this field is high. Specifically, government data shows that job openings for interpreters and translators in West Virginia could increase by as much as 2.59 percent per year through 2022.
All businesses need marketing professionals to help them advertise their products or services. According to state jobs data, employment of market research analysts and marketing specialists in West Virginia could increase by as much as 2.34 per year through 2022. Careers in this field can come with high wages as well. Specifically, market research analysts and marketing specialists earned a mean annual wage of $47,110 in the state in 2014, while marketing managers earned $95,540.
Featured Cities for West Virginia College Students
Charleston is not only the capital of West Virginia, but also the state's most populous city, with approximately 50,404 residents in 2014. The city is home to numerous fairs and cultural events including the West Virginia Dance Festival, the West Virginia International Film Festival, and the Vandalia Gathering, which is held on the grounds of the state capitol.
A relatively high percentage of adults in Charleston (39.4 percent) held at least a bachelor's degree in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Low housing costs also add to the popularity of the area. As of 2013, the median housing value was only $138,100. The area is home to seven institutions of higher education, including these prestigious schools:
University of Charleston
During the Fall 2014 semester, the University of Charleston had an enrollment of 1,895 full-time students. As a school that offers everything from associate degrees to doctoral programs, UC boasts one of the most diverse roster of degree options in the state. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $23,200, and the school is known for these programs:
- Bachelor's degree in Accounting
- Bachelor's degree in Business Administration
- Bachelor's degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
West Virginia Junior College - Charleston
As a two-year, private school, West Virginia Junior College offers associate degrees in high-demand areas such as business, legal assisting, information technology, and allied health fields like medical assisting, medical office administration, dental assisting, and pharmacy technician. For the 2014-15 school year, tuition and fees came out to around $12,625. Here are a few of the programs they're known for:
- Associate degree in Business Administration
- Associate degree in Information Technology
- Associate degree in Medical Assisting
Garnet Career Center
Garnet Career Center serves adult learners as they pursue postsecondary education in a wide range of vocational programs. Enrollment included only 160 students in 2014, with the school boasting an average student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 school year were $4,989, and these are some of their popular programs:
- Automotive Technology Training
- Licensed Practical Nursing
- Certificate in Business Education
Huntington, West Virginia is a major river port city, and also the second most populous city in the state, with 48,807 residents in 2014. In addition to a beautiful riverfront, the city also boasts its own museum of art, a historic downtown city center, and a museum of radio and technology. In 2013, 28.4 percent of Huntington adults held a bachelor's degree or higher, and the median housing value was only $87,900. The Huntington area is home to five institutions of higher education, including these prominent schools:
Located in downtown Huntington, Marshall University is a historic public university that offers two associate degree programs, 55 bachelor's degree programs, 50 master's degree programs, and a wide range of specialist and doctoral degrees. Enrollment included 13,390 students in 2014, and tuition and fees that year were only $6,526 for in-state students. The school is known for offering some of the popular degrees in the state, including these programs:
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
- Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science
- Bachelor of Science in Medical Imaging
Mountwest Community and Technical College
As a public, two-year school, Mountwest Community and Technical College offers a wide range of associate degree and certificate options. Some of their programs are even offered online. As of 2014, the school boasted an enrollment of 2,026 students, and tuition and fees averaged out to $3,521 for in-state students. Here are a few of their most sought-after programs:
- Online Associate of Applied Science in Public Library Technology
- Associate of Applied Science in Network Systems Security
- Associate of Applied Science in Hotel and Lodging Management
Huntington Junior College
Huntington Junior College is a two-year school that offers associate degrees, certificate programs, and vocational training. As of 2014, enrollment included 648 students, and tuition averaged out to $7,800. Some of the school's most popular programs include:
- Associate degree in Administrative Technology
- Associate degree in Dental Assisting
- Associate degree in Business Management
Situated on the Monongahela River, the city of Morgantown had a population of approximately 31,073 in 2014. An amazing 47.1 percent of Morgantown adults held at least a bachelor's degree in 2013, and the median housing value in the area was slightly higher than the state average at $167,600. Points of interest in the area include the Core Arboretum, Metropolitan Theatre, Monongalia Arts Center, Mountaineer Field, and the WVU Coliseum. Six institutions of higher education also reside in the Morgantown area, including:
West Virginia University
As the premier institution of higher education in the state, West Virginia University offers the most online degrees of any school in West Virginia. The school's enrollment included 29,175 students in 2014, yet tuition and fees were only $6,960 for in-state students. The school currently offers 193 degree programs, including these popular options:
- Online RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Hybrid Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Online Master of Science in Nursing
Pierpont Community and Technical College
As a two-year vocational and technical school with a branch in Morgantown, Pierpont offers a wide range of vocational programs in fields such as health care, aviation, technology, and business. Enrollment included 81 students in 2014, and tuition and fees averaged out to only $3,795. The school is known for these programs:
- Associate degree in Physical Therapy Assisting
- Associate degree in Veterinary Technology
- Associate degree in Aviation Maintenance Technology
Ross Medical Education Center - Morgantown
Ross Medical Education Center is a two-year vocational center offering vocational and technical education for health care careers. Only 64 students were enrolled at the Morgantown campus in 2014, and tuition and fees averaged out to $15,690 that year. Their most popular programs include:
- Pharmacy Technician Program
- Dental Assistant Program
- Veterinary Assistant Program
Scholarships and Financial Aid
Students who want to pursue an online or campus-based education in West Virginia should start by filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA form. The information you provide on this form can help state and federal agencies determine what type of student aid you qualify for, if any. Types of federal aid can include Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, or Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
In addition to federal aid, students may also qualify for state aid. Financial aid opportunities specific to West Virginia students include:
- West Virginia PROMISE Scholarship
- West Virginia, Engineering, Science, and Technology Scholarship
- Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship
- West Virginia Higher Education Grant
- Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student (HEAPS) Grant Program
- West Virginia Health Sciences Service Program
These are just some of the state-based aid opportunities available to on-campus and online students in West Virginia. To learn more about any of these options, or inquire about school-based tuition assistance, students should check with their college's financial aid office.
A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, Lumina Foundation, West Virginia, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#west-virginia
College Foundation of West Virginia, https://www.cfwv.com/Home/_default.aspx
May 2014 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, West Virginia, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_wv.htm
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Charleston, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/54/5414600.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Huntington, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/54/5439460.html
State & County QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, Morgantown, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/54/5455756.html
West Virginia Economic Outlook 2014, West Virginia University, http://www.be.wvu.edu/bber/outlook_pdfs/WV-Economic-Outlook-2014.pdf
West Virginia Occupational Projections, Workforce West Virginia, http://www.workforcewv.org/lmi/occproj/longterm/StateWide.htm
WV Industries, West Virginia Department of Commerce, http://www.wvcommerce.org/business/industries/default.aspx