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Fact-check: Did States with Campus-carry Laws See Enrollment Drop?

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University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich speaks during a public forum on a law allowing students with concealed weapons permits to carry firearms on campus, on Sept. 30, 2015. Photo: AP

During their most recent legislative session, West Virginia lawmakers took up a bill that would require colleges in the state to allow students to carry guns on campus as long as they possess a concealed carry permit.

The bill ultimately passed the House, largely on party lines, before falling in the Senate.

During the House debate, one Democratic delegate, Andrew Byrd, argued that passing the bill could keep students from enrolling in the first place.

“The states that have passed (a campus carry law) have seen enrollment drop significantly,” Byrd said, according to an account in WVNews.com. “We need to encourage people to come to our state, not be afraid to come to our state.”

Has there been a significant enrollment drop in states that have passed a campus carry bill? We took a closer look.

When we contacted Byrd, he pointed to an article in the Houston Chronicle about international student enrollment declining in Texas, a state that has enacted a campus carry law.

“International applications to Texas’ four-year public universities have plummeted over the past year by at least 10,000, a 12.5 percent decrease from last fall, according to a Houston Chronicle review of university data,” the article said.

The article cited possible explanations by experts, including Jeff Fuller, a former admissions director at the University of Houston.

The most prominent explanations were “a sluggish global economy,” “greater competition from other countries,” and “President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric,” which Fuller said “has made some international students uncomfortable.”

A less prominent explanation in the article was Texas’ campus carry law, with Fuller saying it was “a sticking point for some applicants.”

However, this is not especially strong evidence to support Byrd’s assertion. Byrd said “states,” but Texas is just one state. He also didn’t specify international student enrollment, which the article did. It’s also not clear that campus carry was the primary factor driving Texas’ decline.

So we decided to take a broader look at states that enacted campus carry. Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for the Association of American Universities, said his group had no systematic data on the issue. So we dug through the numbers ourselves, state by state.

States that have campus carry laws

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 states explicitly ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus, while in 23 others, the decision is left up to each college or university. For instance, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, allows campus carry despite the absence of a state law. Tennessee, meanwhile, allows the right for faculty members but not students or the public.

Here, we’ll focus on the remaining 10 states that have either legislation or court rulings that allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses: Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. (Private schools are not included in the data because they are not required to follow the same guidelines.)

What does the data show?

When we looked at the data state by state, we found that public university enrollment trends in campus carry states have been, at best, inconsistent. Some states actually saw an increase after the law came into effect. We did not assess Arkansas, because we could not find data for the relevant period.

Four states — Colorado, Kansas, Oregon and Wisconsin — did see decreases after passage, though they were fairly small.

The campus carry law in Colorado took effect in 2010. Between that year and 2015, the most recent year available, enrollment fell by 5.8 percent.

In Kansas, the campus carry law has only been in effect for a little over a year. Between 2017 and 2018, the enrollment decrease was 1.1 percent.

Oregon initially saw a 2.9 percent increase in enrollment in 2011, the year its campus carry bill came into effect. Since then, enrollment has fallen by 4.6 percent.

Wisconsin’s campus carry law also came into effect in 2011. Through 2015, the most recent year available, enrollment declined by 8.8 percent.

Two states saw no clear pattern in their enrollment figures.

Mississippi’s campus carry law took effect in 2010. For the first year, the number rose. Enrollment dropped for the next three years, then increased again in 2015, the most recent year with available data.

Utah saw an increase after its campus carry law took effect in 2004. Since then, there was a three-year decrease, followed by a four-year increase, another decrease in 2012, an increase in 2013, and another decrease in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

The remaining three states actually saw increases in their enrollment.

Texas passed its campus carry law in 2016 but data shows a 2.9 increase in enrollment between 2015 and 2017.

Georgia’s campus carry law took effect in 2017. Enrollment has increased by 2.2 percent since before the law.

Finally, Idaho’s enrollment rose by about 11 percent after its campus carry law took effect in 2014. The most recent data for Idaho runs through 2015.

To sum up: Four of the nine states we looked at saw fairly consistent enrollment declines after a campus carry law took effect, while two showed no consistent pattern and three saw enrollment increases.

In other words, there was a lot of variability, contrary to what Byrd said.

But even in the cases of the states with modest declines, it’s not clear that gun laws were the driving force.

Many other factors — such as the size of a state’s college-age population, whether universities are expanding or contracting their offerings, and broader economic forces — can affect enrollment numbers. For instance, improving economic conditions after the Great Recession may have led some students to take jobs rather than enroll in college.

David Bills, a University of Iowa sociologist who studies education, said it’s not impossible that there could be some relationship between campus carry and enrollment declines, but he said he’s never seen research on this question.

“Establishing a causal relationship between a particular law and enrollment trends would demand a very rigorous research design,” Bills said. “The standard of evidence would have to be pretty high. … If that research exists now, I’m not aware of it.”

Our ruling

Byrd said, “The states that have passed (campus carry laws) have seen enrollment drop significantly.”

His evidence for this assertion was one newspaper article that speculated that campus carry was a reason why international enrollment has declined in Texas. But that’s a far narrower finding than he indicated — and other factors have as good a claim, if not a better one, for being the driver of that decline.

When we looked at the numbers more broadly, there is no consistent pattern in states’ enrollment fluctuations following the enactment of campus carry laws. In fact, a slight majority of states either saw increases or a zig-zagging trend line. And even in the states where enrollment dropped, it is hard to say that campus carry was the reason.

We rate his statement False.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Is Joe Manchin the Only Senator to Consistently Vote Against the Nuclear Option?

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In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/File

For decades, majority leaders in the U.S. Senate have threatened to use the “nuclear option” to change senators’ ability to filibuster, a maneuver that blocks bills from coming to a vote unless a supermajority of the chamber votes to proceed.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one member of the body who has fought to protect the status quo.

In a recent tweet, Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate. This move is a betrayal of the people we represent.”

We wondered whether Manchin was right that he had a uniquely consistent record on such votes. So we reached out to two experts in Senate procedure to see whether Manchin’s statement was accurate. (Manchin’s office did not respond to an inquiry.)

What is the nuclear option?

First, some background on the nuclear option.

As we’ve previously noted, there is a legend of uncertain veracity that says George Washington and Thomas Jefferson came to agree that the Senate should serve as a “saucer” to the House’s “tea cup” — a vessel for cooling the passions emanating from the House.

Whether the specifics of the tale hold up, the idea that the Senate is the slower, more cautious half of Congress has been the chamber’s reputation throughout its history. The Constitution delegates internal rule-setting to the Senate itself, and for much of its history, the chamber — unlike the House — did not implement any mechanism to maneuver around a member who was determined enough to block action through a filibuster.

In 1917, the Senate voted to empower a supermajority of two-thirds to cut off a filibuster and move on to other business by invoking a motion known as “cloture.” (Since the Senate had 96 members then, that meant 64 were needed to invoke cloture if all members were voting.) Then, in 1975, the Senate voted to lower the supermajority to its current number, 60 out of 100 members.

Still, 60 votes is a significant hurdle for a chamber that has not often had one party win that many seats. In recent years, the two parties have become more polarized, and more willing to filibuster, even on matters that had previously been treated as routine. That has put pressure on Senate leaders to get rid of the longstanding supermajority hurdle or else face gridlock — especially for such high-stakes topics as nominations.

Detractors have warned that such important matters were better dealt with using the higher degree of consensus conveyed through a 60-vote supermajority. But there is one tool available to a Senate leader willing to buck the chamber’s long standing tradition: the nuclear option.

The mechanics of the nuclear option (which has nothing to do with anything literally nuclear) are complex even by the standards of parliamentary maneuvers, requiring a precise series of carefully choreographed steps. Readers brave enough to tackle the details can refer to multi-page explanations in these two reports by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The gist, though, is that the majority party would move to change the supermajority rule through a series of votes that require only a simple majority.

Recent nuclear votes

Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, cited four key votes for the nuclear option. One came in 2013, when the Democrats were in control, one came in 2017, when Republicans were in control, and the final one came in 2019, when the Republicans were still in control.

In 2013, the Democratic leadership used the nuclear option to get rid of the filibuster for all nominations except Supreme Court appointments. Manchin voted against his own party, to keep the status quo.

In 2017, Republicans leaders called a vote to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Here, Manchin cast a vote to maintain the status quo, siding with Democrats against the Republican majority seeking to go nuclear.

Then, in 2019, Republican leaders offered two relevant votes. While they weren’t specifically about filibusters, they addressed delaying tactics that can advantage the minority.

One vote would shorten the debate time after cloture from 30 hours to 2 hours for district judges. The second would do the same for non-Cabinet executive appointments.

In both cases, Manchin voted to maintain the status quo.

In 2013, two fellow Democratic senators voted with Manchin and against their party’s leadership — then-Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Neither remains in the chamber.

And two Republicans who voted with Democrats in the 2019 votes had stuck with their own party in the 2017 vote, meaning that their voting record wasn’t “consistent” with the status quo in all cases.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate.”

Experts in Senate procedure tell PolitiFact that Manchin is correct, having voted in favor of the status quo — and against “nuclear option” efforts — in each of the four relevant votes between 2013 and 2019.

We rate this statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Have Exports from West Virginia Risen Faster than the U.S. as a Whole?

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Heavy equipment and trucks move coal in the Sun Coal Co. coal yard along the Kanawha River in Dickenson, W.Va., on Jan. 19, 2018. Photo: AP

Have West Virginia exports been on fire recently? A tweet by the West Virginia Republican Party suggests so.

In an April 2 tweet, the state party said, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

Did West Virginia really outpace the national average of export growth rates?

The tweet linked to a March 17 article in WVNews. In turn, the article cites a March 15 news release by the West Virginia Department of Commerce that reported data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Caitlin Ashley-Lizarraga, an international trade specialist at the West Virginia Department of Commerce, pointed us to detailed Census Bureau data collected by a private-sector subscription database, the Global Trade Atlas.

The table shows that West Virginia did indeed export $8.1 billion to the rest of the world in 2018, and that represented a 14.2% increase over the export total for 2017.

The increase for the nation as a whole was a little over half that — 7.6%.

We were able to replicate this data using the Census Bureau’s own USA Trade Onlinedata portal.

While the export growth in West Virginia was strong between 2017 and 2018, it’s worth noting that this expansion came from a small base.

In fact, West Virginia ranks thirteenth from the bottom in total exports for 2018. The states ranking below West Virginia are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party tweeted, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

The data, which we verified with a U.S. Census Bureau database, supports what the tweet said. We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Trail its Neighbors in STEM Graduates?

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Is West Virginia trailing its neighbors in science, technology, engineering and math in higher education? West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said so during his State of the University address on March 19.

“Our state has fewer science, technology, engineering and math graduates than any neighboring state,” Gee said.

We decided to see if Gee was correct. We defined a “neighboring state” as one that shares a border with West Virginia: Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

To support his assertion, Gee’s office referred us to a website run by a corporate-location consulting firm called the Site Selection Group. The site provides statistics for STEM degrees conferred in 2016.

Using raw numbers of graduates, Gee is correct: West Virginia conferred 4,912 STEM degrees, which is smaller than the neighboring five states. The second-smallest was Kentucky, with 8,252 degrees.

However, looking just at raw numbers of graduates is misleading because West Virginia has a smaller population than any of the other states. To cancel out the effect of population, we also looked at the percentage of all degrees conferred in the state that were for STEM fields.

On this measure, West Virginia ranks last among nearby states, too, though the comparison is closer. (We used data from the federal Department of Education that combines associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates conferred in each state for 2015-2016.)

We found that 16 percent of West Virginia’s degrees came in STEM fields, close to — but behind — Virginia at 17 percent and Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania at 18 percent. Maryland was the clear leader with 23 percent.

Courtesy: PolitiFact

Our ruling

Gee said, “Our state has fewer science, technology, engineering, and math graduates than any neighboring state.” He’s right both on the raw numbers and as a percentage of all degrees granted, though measuring by percentage, it’s a pretty close competition.

We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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