26 SCHOOLS in WEST VIRGINIA
The area known as West Virginia has a rich and complex history. Though the mountainous region was often difficult and dangerous (West Virginia is the only state completely contained within the Appalachian Mountains), it was a source of contention as far back as history shows, and even before – Native American tribes warred over West Virginia for hunting grounds long before European settlers even appeared. In the era of the British colonies, the ownership of West Virginia was argued over by the Virginia and Pennsylvania colonies, while the Ohio and Indiana Companies (land speculators who sold frontier land to settlers) disputed over their markets in the region. However, Great Britain considered the region part of Virginia, and part of Virginia it remained after the American Revolution until the beginning of the Civil War. Many residents in the western portion of the state resented the control the elite plantation owners of eastern Virginia held over the entire state, and when Virginia seceded, they took the opportunity to declare the western colonies an independent government, appealing to the Union to accept them as a state. The US, seeing the value of a loyal border state to access Virginia and Kentucky, jumped at the chance, and West Virginia became a new state in 1863.
For most of its history, West Virginia was almost completely dependent on its natural resources, particularly coal and limestone. While the Native tribes and European settlers had known about coal for generations, it was the railroad that made large-scale coal mining possible, and coal dominated life in West Virginia, particularly because the rocky, mountainous land made farming difficult. Coal remained king in West Virginia throughout the 20th century, and while reductions in coal demand and output caused major economic disruptions at the end of the 20th century, West Virginia’s coal-driven heritage of STEM research and development has helped the state turn around. Since the 2008 Great Recession, West Virginia has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the US, largely due to a growing presence in chemicals, plastics, biotech, alternative energy, and other high-tech, 21st-century industries.
West Virginia’s status is on the rise due, in large part, to extensive developments in its higher education system. Higher education came to the mountains later than other eastern states, with no colleges really taking hold until after the Civil War, and even into the beginning of the 20th century many places lacked public high schools to prepare students for college. But that has all changed in the 21st century, with institutions like West Virginia University – the state’s land-grant research university – and many regional colleges and universities like West Liberty University, Glenville State, and Bluefield State providing the means for young people to enter their careers, and for working adults to professionalize. West Virginia’s many Christian colleges and universities – including Methodist, Catholic, and Churches of Christ institutions – provide stellar liberal arts instruction combined with age-old Christian values and ethics.