By Emily Gallagher
Times West Virginian
Students at Fairmont State University got a chance to talk with U.S. Rep. David McKinley Monday.
A round table discussion was held at the Turley Center on the campus of Fairmont State University and Pierpont Community & Technical College. During the discussion, undergraduate and graduate students from FSU asked McKinley questions and gave their comments about issues that government officials are facing in Washington, D.C.
One issue that was brought up included tuition raises. Students, like Ashley Hawkins, were concerned about the financial balance that effects students when they graduate from college.
She said tuition keeps getting more expensive and jobs are harder to find after graduation, and asked McKinley how that can be fixed.
“It seems like those are two things that need to coincide,” Hawkins said.
McKinley said this issue has been around for several years. He said spending in Washington, D.C., has to get under control.
“We’re trying to make things run the way they cost so we’re not subsidizing,” McKinley said. “We’re deeply in debt. Right now we’re $17 trillion in debt.”
Ann Booth, vice president of communications at FSU, said that the college has been lucky that when tuition is increased, it’s the minimum. Booth said there are state colleges that are supported by a portion of state money.
“Those state dollars are declining,” Booth said.
She said one reason why the state money is declining is because that money is generated by coal severance tax. Coal mining is just one of several revenue sources the state.
“As you know, the price of coal has decreased, mining in West Virginia has decreased, so therefore tax dollars that were based on coal severance taxes have decreased,” Booth said, “making less money available.”
Booth said higher education is taking a cut just like everybody else. She said the higher education institutes have to make up that money to have the fundamental things like paying for electric or salt for sidewalks and roadways.
“Sometimes we have to come up with other revenue sources and sometimes that’s a tuition increase,” Booth said. “Fairmont State has worked hard to keep tuition increases to a minimum impact (on) students.”
Small business was also discussed at the round table. Student Mitch Moore talked about wanting to start his own business and stay in West Virginia. Moore said it will be hard to do this because of tax laws.
McKinley said that he would like to see the federal government focus on smaller towns in the country. He told the students about his starting his own business when he was two years out of college and said that more people need to take risks.
McKinley encouraged Moore to follow his entrepreneur spirit.
“Entrepreneurship can’t be taught. You have to feel it in your heart,” McKinley told Moore.
Tyler Hawkins, who is working toward his master’s degree in criminal justice at FSU, said he was expecting an open discussion with McKinley and that’s just what happened.
“He gave some good advice, good answers and answered a lot of tough questions,” Hawkins said. “We also got to make some observations and ask tough questions.”
Hawkins said his overall impression was that McKinley, along with the other representatives, are working hard.
“As long as we can stay inspired and as long as we have people like people in this room who are wanting to work hard and are trying to make a difference, a difference will be made,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins said he liked the fact that McKinley came to listen as well as talk about issues facing young people in America.
“Our ideas are being heard,” Hawkins said.
Before McKinley met with FSU students, he met with town officials of Barrackville including Mayor Roy L. Meeks III, Police Chief Chuck Wilson, and councilmen Charlie Moore and Robert Hollinsworth.
McKinley said the group talked about small town issues and how federal government can get help to smaller communities.
“Washington has to listen to rural America,” McKinley said. “They can’t keep focusing on big-city issues.”
McKinley said he’s wanting to put together a summit at which small town officials communicate with other representatives about the issues they’re facing.
“The congressmen need to hear what their regulations are doing to small towns,” he said.
Email Emily Gallagher at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @EGallagherTWV.