WHEELING - Upper Ohio Valley residents have several four-year, higher education options right in their backyard.
For those seeking to go to a Catholic university, Wheeling Jesuit University and Franciscan University of Steubenville are available. West Liberty University is a public school while Bethany College is a private, liberal arts college.
West Liberty University
West Liberty University students show their school spirit during a parade to mark homecoming. The university offers one of the region’s only dental hygiene programs.
West Liberty has seen its enrollment increase for the fifth consecutive year, President Robin Capehart said. For this past fall, enrollment jumped by 3.5 percent.
Registrar and Executive Director of Enrollment Services Scott Cook said 2,738 students were enrolled at WLU on the first day of classes in fall 2010, up from 2,645 from fall 2009. Of those, Capehart said that 330 were transfer students.
Cook said 74 percent of West Liberty's first-year students return for a second year. He added that at least 91 percent of first semester freshmen return for a spring semester.
What's the current state of higher education in the Upper Ohio Valley?
Very good, as West Liberty University, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Wheeling Jesuit University and Bethany College offer a wide range of educational opportunities for recent high school graduates or those already in the work force looking to further their education.
To improve those rates, Cook said a new program called MapWorks identifies first-year students who may be struggling academically or socially and prompts intervention.
Since WLU is a state school, tuition is comparably less than that of the area's private schools. Wheeling Jesuit charges a flat, $11,975 per semester for a full-time student, while WLU has three various rates for students' hometown location. West Virginia students pay $2,440 per semester while those from elsewhere pay $6,375. WLU also offers a "Metro Rate" of $5,100 for those from select counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
University spokeswoman Stefanie Trouten said that the most populated "college" on campus is the College of Sciences, which includes the dental hygiene program, and then the College of Education.
Cook added that the graphic design and broadcasting fields within the College of Arts and Communication are developing rapidly. The other two colleges, the Gary E. West College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts, are reasonably stable programs.
Eric Croasman, a junior social studies education major at West Liberty, said there are plenty of opportunities for students at West Liberty.
Sophomore Lauren Heisler came to West Liberty for the dental hygiene program, only available regionally from WLU, West Virginia University and University of Pittsburgh. She said the intimate atmosphere and small school feel drew her in.
Meanwhile, Lauren Yeater, a sophomore political science and government and communication dual major, said she had opportunities to network with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other political figures that come to the school.
Croasman, Heisler and Yeater agreed that the small size and value led them to WLU, while they feel the only way the institution can get better is when facilities such as the science center are completed and others are updated.
West Liberty also is continuing to work on getting a physicians assistant program at the school.
Bethany President Scott Miller said that enrollment at the school is growing. There currently are 1,020 full- and part-time students, and Miller said he'd like to hit 1,100 in the long term.
"As a selective liberal arts college - acceptance rate of 57 percent - we recruit from a wider audience than other colleges in the immediate region," he said. "We project an increasing number of students from the Mid-Atlantic and New England states in the coming years."
Miller also touched on the college's retention rate, noting that 86 percent of last year's freshmen returned for their sophomore year.
In terms of cost, Miller said that a full-time student would pay about $16,000 for tuition, room and board. However, he noted that his college has "an extensive endowed scholarship program that makes a Bethany education affordable for all who are admitted."
The most popular and growing fields at Bethany include education, communications and media arts, business and economics, psychology, social work and the sciences, said Miller. He noted that the business field has been booming recently due to McCann Family Student Investment Fund, where students can manage a $1 million endowment and make investment decisions.
Tanner Coles, a sophomore pre-medical student, said he is receiving a great education at Bethany, noting small classes and face-to-face opportunities with professors make for a good learning atmosphere.
Accounting freshman Peter Franklin said he likes the small school atmosphere and his professors. He added that he will return for fall courses.
Wheeling Jesuit University
Wheeling Jesuit's enrollment has remained stable over the past few years. Vice President of Enrollment Management Larry Vallar estimated more than 1,300 students are enrolled in all programs - from undergraduate to graduate.
Vallar said that he would like to see that number go up in the near future.
New university President Richard Beyer said that one plan to increase enrollment numbers is to reach out to community colleges as "feeder institutions."
Retention rates are moderately high at WJU, however. Vallar indicated that seven out of every 10 students will return after their first year.
Though he would like to see that statistic go up to 90 percent, he noted that once beyond the first year, a returning student will be more likely to persist to graduation.
Also, Vallar noted that nearly all WJU graduates secure employment or go to graduate school due to an extensive professional outreach program.
As for fields of study, Vallar said WJU has evolved and is still developing its health sciences programs. In fact, the top two majors for first-year students are nursing and athletic training. Following are biology, education and business.
Meanwhile, physical therapy is a field that is quickly developing in the institution.
The opinions among WJU students were all positive.
"I really like it ... I feel like I'm not just a number, but part of a family," sophomore and athletic training major Jess Battilochi said.
She added that hands-on learning is something important to her and her major gives her the chance to work with Wheeling Hospital, high school football teams and even the Wheeling Nailers.
Joe Scardina, a senior business administration major and athlete, said he appreciates the campus security, face-to-face learning, opportunities for community service and athletic programs. In his studies, he had the opportunity to visit various industrial plants and workplaces to learn how they operate.