Increasing Opportunity in West Virginia by Advancing Access to Education

A Marshall University professor lectures to a class of students.

When it comes to leveling the playing field of opportunity among people, education is a critical component. Studies from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that people who receive higher education are more likely to earn a higher income than those who do not. Data from the Bureau also indicates that the unemployment rate is much higher for people who receive less education – specifically, those who do not have a high school diploma. With education having a significant impact on a person’s employment — and subsequent financial and economic stability — it is essential to increase access to educational opportunities for the greater health of historically underserved communities, including those in West Virginia.

How the Wing 2 Wing Foundation Supports Education

Brad D. Smith has long championed education as a great equalizer for opportunity. In fact, Brad and his wife Alys Smith’s Wing 2 Wing Foundation was created in part to advance access to education for people across Appalachia. Recognizing that West Virginia has been disproportionately impacted by changes in the greater economy, Wing 2 Wing has worked to open doors to training and education for current and future generations of West Virginians to help them keep up with the ever-evolving professional landscape. 

Through Brad’s work at the Wing 2 Wing Foundation, over 250 teachers across the West Virginia public school system have received donations to help expand their capabilities in teaching STEM-focused learnings. Wing 2 Wing has also contributed to 200 scholarships for first-generation college students attending Brad and Alys’ respective alma maters — Marshall University and The Ohio State University.

Marshall’s Commitment to Advancing Education in Appalachia

Marshall University has also taken measures to enhance the educational experience of Appalachians by improving its affordability. As President of Marshall, Brad has led the charge in extending the school’s Metro tuition to students residing across 59 counties in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Since taking up his presidential position, Brad has specifically discussed working toward reducing the financial obligations of receiving an education to best prepare students for a successful future, driving the next generation of leaders. Marshall also offers both students and Huntington locals opportunities to expand their entrepreneurial interests through the Brad D. Smith Student Incubator and through the Lewis College of Business’s Innovation District.

Nurturing the Drive to Learn Amongst the Next Generation

A key part of driving growth in West Virginia is ensuring that the next generation is equipped with the skills and resources they need to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Improving access to quality education is imperative to children’s long-term development as it often enables them a higher chance to emerge from lower socioeconomic statuses and escape poverty. Supporting programs that encourage an interest in learning also helps build their self-esteem, along with other soft skills such as critical-thinking, self-discipline and communication. The Brad and Alys Outdoor Economic Development Collaborative (OEDC) recognizes the impact education has on youths and provides invaluable programs to help ignite a passion for learning early on. Specifically, the OEDC’s Science Adventure School provides opportunities for sixth grade students to explore STEM and the great outdoors through hands-on learning experiences.

Enhancing the Economy By Improving Access to Education

In areas like Appalachia that have been historically impacted by a lack of opportunity, it is more important than ever to focus on making education accessible to all. From those who are already in the workforce to the next generation of students, everyone deserves a chance to expand their learning and create the future they envision. With changemakers and organizations proactively working to install and further educational initiatives, West Virginia is bound to continue seeing positive economic development.

For more information on developing access to education in West Virginia, visit the Wing 2 Wing Foundation website.