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This scholarship a Promise worth keeping

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia students are some of the luckiest students in the country; they get the chance to earn the Promise scholarship for college if they choose to go in-state. Students can receive up to $4,750 per year if they maintain the grade requirements.

The Promise scholarship requires a 3.0 GPA (a B average) the student's last semester of high school. It also requires a composite score of 22 and a minimum of 20 individually in each subject on the ACT. The SAT requirement is a 1020 total score with a 480 in math and 490 in Critical Reading.

This scholarship was co-founded by former governor Bob Wise in 1999. "I wanted a way to send a message to students that if they work hard and get the grades they any go to any college in the state of West Virginia," he said recently. 

"The second reason I wanted to promote this scholarship was for the economic future of West Virginia. The economy depends on education."

Earlier this year, Wise was a part of a panel of speakers at a forum about the Promise scholarship that was sponsored by Generation Charleston, a program at the Charleston Area Alliance. The panel also consisted of Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission; Lloyd Jackson, a member of the West Virginia Board of Education; Stephen Kopp, president of Marshall University; Lizzy Margolin, a former Promise recipient and attorney with Bowles Rice; and Kristen Pennington, chairwoman of the West Virginia University Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement.

Pennington, who works with students at WVU and gatherers data about the scholarship, said, "There were five things we wanted to achieve with this scholarship: getting kids to take the right courses, getting them to work hard to reach the ACT and SAT requirements, having more kids stay in state, getting them to continue to work hard in college maintaining a B average, and lastly getting them to be efficient by finishing school in eight semesters."

But, founding a scholarship does come with challenges.

Wise said, "The main challenge was funding. We passed a tax on video lottery to use as the source. Also, making sure people understood the importance of this scholarship was a challenge."

The Promise scholarship stopped offering full tuition coverage years ago, but the state is working hard to try to get it back. "Our goal is to get back to full coverage, but tuition rates raise 5 to 10 percent each year, which makes it a challenge," Pennington said.

The state imposed the ACT and SAT requirements so that not just every student could earn the scholarship, therefore keeping the program within the budget. However, each year, more and more students worked harder and met the score, so the score requirement was raised.

This cycle kept repeating. It became impossible to continue to fully fund the scholarship.

"I think we should fully fund the Promise scholarship because these kids keep meeting the challenges we give them. They deserve to have full coverage," said Jackson. He also noted that 60 percent of jobs require a post-secondary education, and partial financial aid sometimes isn't enough to get students to college.

Keeping students in state has been a big aim of the Promise scholarship, not just during their college years, but after they graduate.

Margolin, a George Washington High School graduate, said, "I came from a high school notorious for choosing out-of-state colleges, but as the Promise was introduced, many views changed. The Promise is why I went to WVU and stayed in state."

"This scholarship has served 35,000 students, which is phenomenal, and many are working here in West Virginia today," noted Hill.

Wise said, "If we don't have educated students, the jobs aren't coming."

 "Investment in students is the best investment the state can make," added Kopp.

For information on the Promise scholarship, visit www.cfwv.com and click on the "Financial Aid Planning" section.


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