Guide to Colleges & Universities in West Virginia (WV)

Education in West Virginia

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), more than 75 colleges, universities and other institutions of higher education call the Mountain State home. These include:

  • Public four-year universities: 13
  • Public two-year community and technical colleges: 12
  • Private nonprofit two- and four-year colleges: 10
  • Private for-profit two- and four-year colleges: 19
  • Private schools, including seminary colleges and occupational schools: 23

Education and colleges in West Virginia

With its population of 1.8 million, according to recent census data, West Virginia is one of the 10 smallest and the 15 least-populated states in the U.S. The state’s largest city is Charleston, with the metro area home to almost 225,000 people.

According to a 2014 study by 24/7 Wall St., West Virginia has the lowest percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees in the United States, at less than 19 percent. The Census Bureau estimates that in 2013, West Virginia also had a poverty rate of 17.9 percent of all residents, above to the national average of 15.4 percent. The state also had a 7 percent unemployment rate as of January 2015, higher than the national average of 5.3 percent as of June 2015. Furthermore, the BLS estimates that West Virginia median household income from 2009-2013 was $41,043, well below the national average of $53,046.

HAccording to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, however, Real GDP increased by 5.1 percent in 2014, making the state’s growth the fourth-highest in the country. The state is a leader in energy, particularly its coal mines and natural gas production from shale foods and also produces metals and steels. West Virginia is also known for forestry and tourism. With the state’s economic growth among the highest in the country, West Virginia can be an excellent place to live, work and pursue higher education.

Of West Virginia’s 1.8 million residents, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that 707,720 are “working age,” which is defined as adults between the ages of 25 and 64. According to the Lumina Foundation, approximately 27.8 percent of working-age West Virginia residents hold a two- or four-year degree, which is significantly less than the national average of 39.4 percent. In such an environment, having a college degree or professional certificate may set one apart from other job applicants.

More specifically, according to a 2014 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, federal financial aid-eligible colleges and universities in West Virginia granted 28,556 degrees and certificates to 27,670 graduating students in 2011-12. Among those students, 80 percent earned their degrees at four-year institutions and 15 percent earned two-year degrees. The remaining five percent, a total of 1,205 graduates, earned certificates from less-than-two-year institutions.

Here are some total undergraduate student enrollment numbers collected from the major public universities in West Virginia, current as of Fall 2013:

  • West Virginia State University: 2,609
  • West Virginia University: 22,764
  • Marshall University: 9,756
  • Shepherd University: 4,081

Online Education in West Virginia

Both the quality of material being delivered online as well as the delivery methods themselves have been enhanced rapidly over the past decade. Innovations like massive open online courses (MOOCs) have enabled colleges and universities to scale up their enrollments without sacrificing quality, particularly at the introductory or “gen-ed” level. As a result, course content can be delivered online easily and cheaply and students taking their college coursework online has now become commonplace.

Even traditional colleges and universities in West Virginia now offer courses in hybrid and fully online formats, whether at the individual course level or for entire programs and degrees. This has had the happy side effect of enabling students to achieve their educational goals even if they do not live near the particular college, university or vocational or technical school in West Virginia that they would like to attend. Even students who live outside West Virginia may choose to attend schools in the Mountain State, if they determine that an institution there is the best fit for their educational goals.

Several colleges and universities in West Virginia that offer online programs have been recognized by national ranking agencies. Here are a few universities and colleges in West Virginia that offer online programs, alongside their national rank as calculated by U.S. News & World Report:

  • American Public University System
    • Best Online Bachelor’s Programs: No. 27
  • Ohio Valley University
    • Best Online Graduate Education Programs: No. 176
  • West Virginia University
    • Best Online MBA Programs: No. 25
    • Best Online Graduate Education Programs: No. 86
    • Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs: No. 36
  • Wheeling Jesuit University
    • Best Online Bachelor’s Programs: No. 125
    • Best Online Graduate Education Programs: No. 68
    • Best Online Graduate Nursing Programs: No. 36

By 2008, nearly 25 percent of all postsecondary students in the United States were taking online courses and by 2012 over 7.1 million postsecondary students nationally were taking at least one online course. According to the NCES, in colleges in West Virginia, over 66,000 students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. Nearly 19,000 more were enrolled in at least one distance education course. That’s more than 50 percent of all post-secondary students in the state at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Top Jobs and Careers in West Virginia

Here’s a table of some of the top careers in West Virginia for which a degree is required or recommended, along with information about each and some degrees that can help job candidates in each field stand out from the crowd:

OccupationTop regionsWhy it’s hotNecessary skillsRelevant degrees
Elementary School Teachers, Except Special EducationStatewideAccording to the BLS, this occupational category had a mean annual wage of $45,730 in 2014 in West Virginia. Given that the mean annual wage across all occupations is $37,880, education is not only high-demand in the Mountain State, it is high-paying.Instructing, speaking, learning strategies, active listening, active learning, monitoring, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, judgment and decision making, reading comprehensionAccording to the BLS, Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree as well as a state-issued certification or license. For higher grades, some states prefer or require a double major in elementary education as well as a content area such as math or science.
Retail SalespersonsStatewide, particularly the Charleston metro areaAccording to the BLS, this occupational category has an annual mean wage of $23,200 in West Virginia. However, over 24,000 workers are employed in this category statewide.Active listening, persuasion, speaking, service orientation, negotiationThe level of education required depends on the industry and an individual’s goals. Those selling technical or very expensive items may need postsecondary coursework to familiarize them with the product and industry terminology. Those interested in advancing into management positions may need a college degree in an industry related topic or in management.
Registered nursesOpportunities exist statewideIn West Virginia, the mean annual wage for registered nurses is $56,390, well above the state’s average annual household income.Service orientation, active listening, social perceptiveness, coordination and monitoringIndividuals wishing to become more competitive for registered nursing positions may want to obtain a bachelor of science in nursing, although other educational paths are available. Registered nurses must also be licensed.
General and Operations ManagersStatewide, but particularly in metro areas like Charleston.According to the BLS, the mean annual wage in this occupational category in West Virginia is $82,630, making it one of the higher paying top occupations in the state.Active listening, reading comprehension, speaking, critical thinking and monitoringTypically, general and operations managers have a bachelor’s degree in business or a related area such as hospitality management, leisure studies, human resources, or finance. A master’s degree may be required for more advanced positions or at larger organizations.
Secretaries and Administrative AssistantsStatewide, but particularly in metro areas like Charleston.The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that this occupational category pays an annual mean wage of $28,900 in West Virginia.Writing, active listening, reading comprehension, speaking, time managementFor many such positions some coursework in basic office skills from a technical or community college and on-the-job training are required. Depending on the industry (medical, legal, etc.) then additional coursework to familiarize one with the technical terms may make one more competitive. Executive secretaries may need to complete a bachelor’s degree as well as several years of work experience.

Other job categories of note in West Virginia include office and administrative support occupations, sales and related occupations, transportation and material moving occupations and construction and extraction occupations.

Financial Aid in West Virginia

In 2014-2015, tuition and fees in West Virginia averaged the following by institution type:

  • Public two-year in-state
    • 2003-2004: $2,618
    • 2014-2015: $3,468
  • Public four-year in-state
    • 2003-2004: $4,568
    • 2014-2015: $6,661
  • Private nonprofit four-year
    • 2003-2004: $21,957
    • 2014-2015: $25,019

Education and colleges in West Virginia

In general, tuition rates in all categories in West Virginia are lower than in other states. Obviously, however, individual institution’s prices will vary.

Most students who enroll at colleges and universities in West Virginia will fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA, each year. The information recorded on the FAFSA is used by many different potential sources of state and federal student aid as well as to determine an individual student’s financial need and eligibility for programs of interest. In addition to the FAFSA, West Virginia has state financial aid programs. More information is available at the College Foundation of West Virginia website, but options include:

  • West Virginia PROMISE Scholarship
  • West Virginia Engineering, Science and Technology Scholarship
  • Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship
  • Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Loan Assistance Program
  • West Virginia Higher Education Grant
  • Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student (HEAPS) Grant Program
  • Medical Student Loan Program
  • West Virginia Health Sciences Service Program

Proof of state residency and other requirements may have to be met to verify eligibility for state financial aid programs. In 2013-2014, Federal Direct subsidized and un-subsidized loans were being offered at an interest rate of 3.86 percent. Private student loans may also be available at a variety of interest rates, depending on an individual’s credit history and score.

For example, federal loans have consistent rules dictating one’s eligibility for forbearance and deferral. Individuals with federal student loans may also be able to participate in Pay As You Earn (PAYE), a repayment program that caps monthly loan payments at a set percentage of one’s income. PAYE also offers forgiveness on the balance after a set period of on-time payments. On the other hand, private lenders may or may not offer forbearance and deferral programs and are not eligible for PAYE.

Regardless of their ultimate career goals, prospective students should be careful to seek a regionally accredited institution if seeking a traditional academic degree. Accreditation is one of the primary ways the quality of an institution is judged. There are six regional accreditors in the United States. In West Virginia, the accreditation body is the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA).

Rather than the regional accrediting bodies, some vocational and technical schools are nationally accredited instead. Some programs, whether technical, vocational, or academic, are endorsed by the professional organization associated with the topic or content area being taught. Students should do the research to discover the types of accreditation that are expected by their chosen industry. Then, they should seek a program that not only teaches the skills they want to gain, but has the accreditation that will make them competitive in the eyes of potential employers.In addition to state and federal forms of financial aid, prospective students should remember that colleges and universities as well as private organizations may offer their own unique financial aid opportunities. Eligibility will vary for each person and each institution, but investigating any and all opportunities is prudent. Rarely will sources of aid approach eligible individuals directly, so students should expect to be proactive in this process. Usually, students receive multiple small awards from numerous sources, rather than one large award covering all their costs. Though it may be more work upfront, seeking out grants and scholarships that do not have to be repaid is a better long-term financial choice than simply taking out student loans, which can have a negative effect on one’s finances post-graduation.

To find out more about some of the schools and programs available in West Virginia, be sure to check out the ones featured in our school listings below.

Article Sources


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  2. May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, West Virginia,
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  4. “West Virginia Quickfacts,” The U.S. Census Bureau,
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  9. “West Virginia Report Card,” West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Community and Technical College System of West Virginia,
  10. “Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012, Web Tables,” U.S. Department of Education, June 2014,
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  13. “Ohio Valley University,” U.S. News & World Report,
  14. “West Virginia University,” U.S. News & World Report,
  15. “Wheeling Jesuit University,” U.S. News & World Report,
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  18. “Retail Salespersons,” Occupational Information Network,
  19. “Retail Sales Workers,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  20. “Registered Nurses,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  21. “Registered Nurses,” Occupational Information Network,
  22. “General and Operations Managers,” Occupational Information Network,
  23. “Management Occupations,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  24. “Secretaries and administrative assistants,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  25. “Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical and Executive,” Occupational Information Network,
  26. “Trends in Higher Education, Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time,” CollegeBoard,
  27. “West Virginia Merit-based and Need-based Financial Aid Programs Summary Report 2014,” West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission,
  28. “”Find Scholarships,” College Foundation of West Virginia,

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