- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Oct. 4

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on an improving economy in southern West Virginia:

Resilient and creative, the folks of southern West Virginia are working their way out of the slump caused by the sharp decline of the coal industry in their region. They are doing it by showing the rest of the world what it is they love so much about their home counties, and making visitors beg for their next chance to come back.

With the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System as its centerpiece, the southern West Virginia tourism industry is booming. According to one business owner, who told another media outlet the trail system has been “a major blessing to us,” there are not enough beds in the five southern counties through which the trail system runs to accommodate all the visitors. Most of those visitors, once they’ve gotten a taste of West Virginia, the trail system, kayaking, other outdoor activities, the food and hospitality cannot wait to come back - and spend their money.

Annual permits for the trail system cost $26.50 for West Virginians and $50 for nonresidents. For 2016, the sale of trail permits is expected to surpass 40,000, with more than 80 percent of those being sold to nonresidents.

Some of them come from as far away as Canada and New England because they are learning there is no place like the Mountain State.

Fortunately, the people who have lost so much in the assault on the coal industry are finding ways to cash in. Towns such as Gilbert, Man, Matewan and Delbarton - places many in West Virginia know for very different reasons - are tourist attractions to people from other regions looking to get away from it all.

If they can do it, so can the rest of us. What is happening in southern West Virginia is no miracle turnaround, but it is a start. And it is an example of what people who are unwilling to give up on their home state can accomplish if they are willing to try something a little different.

Online:

http://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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Oct. 4

The Charleston Daily Mail on the elk population in West Virginia:

Residents in certain parts of the state can soon expect to see elk roaming West Virginia hills.

It has been more than a century since the species wandered freely in West Virginia, but the state Division of Natural Resources recently received the OK from the U.S. Forest Service to procure about 20 elk from a reservation in Kentucky, the Gazette-Mail’s John McCoy reported.

Paul Johansen, DNR wildlife chief, said agency workers will travel to Kentucky next month to trap the animals, verify they are disease-free and then transport them to the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area in Logan County.

“This is one of the greatest conservation opportunities West Virginia has experienced in many, many years,” Johansen said. “This is one of the largest conservation efforts I’ve seen in my 30-plus-year career working with this agency. This is wildlife restoration at its best, and we’re very proud of it.”

The DNR has been hard at work getting the Tomblin Wildlife Management Area ready for the elk. Much of the area is located on old surface mines, so DNR workers spent the summer churning up soil and planting nutritious trees and grass to allow the animals to graze.

Officials hope to eventually stock about 150 elk in West Virginia by 2019 and possibly open the wildlife management area to some hunting, though those plans are uncertain.

“It depends on the reproductive rate,” DNR biologist Chris Ryan told MetroNews. “Obviously we’ll be following and studying them, but you just can’t predict when you can have a hunt when you start out with 10 females.”

A successful elk restoration project could help diversify the coalfields’ economy as well. West Virginia hopes to model Kentucky’s success and open the wildlife management area to sightseeing tours. After all, many in West Virginia likely have never seen an elk, and certainly not within state borders.

Tied in with the Hatfield-McCoy Trails and other recreational activities, the elk restoration project could make Southern West Virginia a bigger tourist draw.

Sightseeing tours and hunting license fees have brought millions of dollars to the Kentucky economy, and the same could happen in West Virginia.

It’s easy to see why the DNR is excited about the elk restoration program. Not only are biologists getting an opportunity to reintroduce a species to the Mountain State, but those efforts could soon result in financial benefits for a struggling state economy.

Online:

http://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Oct. 3

The Inter-Mountain on completion rates in the state:

Last week, faculty and staff from West Virginia’s public colleges and universities set forth on a bold path to dramatically improve college completion rates in the state. The work occurred as part of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s Corequisite Academy, a two-day conference held in partnership with Complete College America to help campuses implement a new model for college students deemed to be “underprepared.”

Developmental, or remedial, education has long been recognized as a major barrier to student success. For too many students, placement in these classes represents a dead end in their educational journey.

Students are placed in developmental classes due to low scores on college entrance exams or low high school grade point averages (GPAs). The traditional theory assumes that these students are not yet ready to complete college-level coursework, so they are placed in courses that are intended to help them catch up - but do not count toward college credit.

Over the years, we have learned that there are serious flaws in this approach. For starters, measures used to place students in developmental education courses are far from perfect. Research from Complete College America and other leading college completion experts indicates that many students who are placed in developmental classes could have succeeded in regular, credit-bearing courses. And although exams and GPAs serve as valuable warning systems indicating a gap in students’ knowledge, they do little to pinpoint the specific area in which a student may need improvement.

As a result, students spend a great deal of time and money learning content they have already mastered. This is frustrating and demoralizing for students. And, even worse, it greatly reduces their chances of ultimately completing their degree programs. Studies have shown that time is the enemy of degree completion. The longer students take to complete their degrees, the more costs they incur and the more likely that life events will derail their studies. At community colleges across the country, just one in 10 remedial students earns his or her degree within three years. At four-year colleges, a little over a third of remedial students earn their degree within six years.

But there is a better way. The corequisite developmental education model provides students with the support they need to overcome any deficiencies in their knowledge and skills while simultaneously allowing them to complete college-level coursework that counts toward their degrees.

It’s important to note that placing “underprepared” students directly into college-level courses is not a “dumbing down” of higher education. Students still tackle the same, rigorous coursework they were always expected to complete.

They are earning college credit, receiving the support they need, and doing so at a considerably lower cost than under the old model.

Instead of holding students back to “relearn” an entire semester of content and skills, students move forward through their college program and are provided extra support as it is needed.

This method not only spares the student time and frustration, but also saves the institutions staff time and money - two important factors in keeping the cost of higher education low.

The West Virginia Community and Technical College System was among the first organizations in the country to implement the corequisite model at a system-wide scale. In 2014, all of West Virginia’s public two-year colleges committed to using the corequisite system for those students requiring developmental education.

As a result, student success rates skyrocketed. Under the previous, traditional model, just 37 percent of developmental education students were completing college-level English within two years of entering a community and technical college. After the corequisite model was introduced, that number jumped to 74 percent after just one semester. The results were even more astonishing in math. Under the traditional model, only 14 percent of students completed college-level math within two years. But after one semester using the corequisite approach, 63 percent completed the course!

Since then, colleges and universities across the nation - including many four-year colleges here in the Mountain State - have tested the corequisite method with similar results.

That is why I am tremendously excited that West Virginia’s public two-year and four-year colleges have committed to transitioning 80 percent of all developmental education students into corequisite courses by 2018.

The commission and the Community and Technical College System should be commended for offering statewide and national leadership in addressing developmental education. They identified a problem. They found a solution.

And now they are using their unique positions as state higher education coordinating agencies to expand this innovative strategy to make real, positive changes for students across West Virginia. Bruce Vandal is the senior vice president for results at Complete College America, a national nonprofit working to increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close achievement gaps.

Online:

http://www.theintermountain.com/

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