"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.” – Howard Aiken, physicist and computer pioneer
As my regular readers know, our politicians can identify West Virginia’s largest barrier to prosperity – our low inventory of college graduates - but they can’t seem to follow the bread crumbs to the remedy which is, of course, an expanded and much more robust Promise Scholarship. The current Promise Scholarship is the right kind of medicine in a dosage insufficient to cure the sick West Virginia economy.
It’s not too late for West Virginia to make its workforce magnetic to outside investment but we’ll have some work to do to distinguish ourselves from other states. Here’s an update on Tennessee, New York and Rhode Island followed by The Higginbotham Plan to make West Virginia’s workforce irresistible to companies who need to open factories, research facilities or offices.
“Tennessee Promise is a “last-dollar” program that covers costs not covered by the Pell Grant, Hope Scholarship or other state education assistance funds. It provides up to 2 years of free community college or technical school to Tennessee high school graduates. “Tennessee Promise” costs the state about $34 million annually and is funded largely by their state lottery.
On Jan 3, 2017, Governor Cuomo proposed a plan that would allow 940,000 New York students from families making up to $125,000 to attend SUNY and CUNY colleges. When fully implemented, the plan will cost $163 million annually.
Sometimes billed as a “college completion plan”, the free college plan proposed a few days ago by Governor Raimondo would pay tuition and fees in the junior and senior years for students who already completed two years at a state school but it would also cover the first two years for students entering community college. The Raimondo plan will cost about $30 million annually when fully implemented.
Critics of free college plans sometimes ask me why I’m not promoting debt forgiveness. The simple reason is that forgiving the debt of people who already have college degrees doesn’t produce more college graduates. Free college plans are not welfare. They are workforce development plans and economic development plans. The goal of providing free college is to increase the inventory of college graduates. Debt forgiveness doesn’t do that unless we use it to lure college grads from other states which brings me to another idea I’d like West Virginia to steal. West Virginia should offer to buy out the college debts of college grads with STEM degrees who establish verifiable residency in West Virginia. Steal this idea, West Virginia. We need to increase our inventory of college grads.
The Higginbotham Plan - please steal this plan, West Virginia
Here is the Higginbotham Plan to make West Virginia’s workforce irresistible to out-of-state companies:
1. Make the Promise Scholarship a STEM scholarship. Companies won’t come here because of our English majors, political science majors and communications majors, but they will come here to gain access to our mathematicians, software engineers, chemists and other STEM grads if we produce them in large numbers.
2. Require Promise Scholarship recipients to sign a contract with West Virginia obligating them to stay in West Virginia for, say, 5 years after graduation. Currently, too many of West Virginia’s college grads are leaving with their degrees and making some other state’s workforce magnetic to outside investment. If they give us five years, they’ll marry, have children, build houses, make friends and most will never leave. Maybe along the way they’ll invent things and, who knows, maybe some of start the next Apple or the next Google.
3. Greatly expand the Promise Scholarship to fund tens of thousands of students’ college careers instead of the current 3,000 to 3,500.
4. Double the per-student annual scholarship award from its current $4,750 to around $9,000 or $10,000.
5. Buy the college debt of STEM grads who want to come to West Virginia and are willing to sign a contract requiring them to become part of West Virginia’s workforce for at least five years.
6. Pay for the above with a severance tax, an excise tax or the proceeds from the state lottery or some combination of the aforementioned.
Finally, I am calling upon economic development organizations like the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Vision Shared, West Virginia Manufacturers Association, Charleston Area Alliance and Create West Virginia and Generation West Virginia to steal my plan and, in unity, take it to the West Virginia legislature. You can call it the Matt Ballard Plan, the Natalie Roper Plan, the Cory Dennison Plan, the Steve Roberts Plan or the Sarah Halstead Plan if you want. I don’t care if I get credit for it.
I’m calling upon organizations like Vision Shared, Create West Virginia and the West Virginia Chamber to quit submitting competing, contradictory legislative agendas to the West Virginia legislature.
Joseph Higginbotham neither reads nor publishes comments from unidentifiable, pseudonymous or anonymous commenters. No Ring of Gyges for you.
Mayor Danny Jones, Hoppy Kercheval, Dotsy Klei, Dave Allen, Dave Gilpin, Tom Roten, Jack Patty, Kruser, Matt Ballard, Natalie Roper, Sarah Halstead, Rebecca Kimmons, Michael Basile, Ted Boettner, Jake Jarvis, Booth Goodwin, Mitch Carmichael, Tim Armstead, Jim Justice, Rebecca McPhail, Keith Burdette, Kevin DiGregorio, Bray Cary, Max Garland, Phil Kabler, Rob Byers,