CHARLESTON, W.Va. --If a proposed statewide budget cut is passed, thousands of high-achieving West Virginia students who depend on the Promise Scholarship to make it through college could be denied the help they need.
"We will have to tell a number of students, 'You did everything right, but we don't have enough money.' And that would be a very serious problem for us," said Paul Hill, chancellor of the state Higher Education Policy Commission.
The Promise Scholarship covers $4,750 of tuition for in-state students who maintained a B average in high school and scored at least a 22 composite score on the ACT. The scholarship can be used to fund four years of college if students maintain a 3.0 average.
Last year, more than $47 million in Promise scholarships were awarded to 9,820 West Virginia students.
Higher education officials told legislators last week that tuitions would have to increase to compensate for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed 7.5 percent cut to institutions' budgets. Tomblin has asked all state agencies to incorporate the cut in next year's budgets, and projects it will save a total of $85 million.
The HEPC already has sent a letter to Tomblin requesting that higher education and financial aid programs be fully exempt. The cuts would have to be implemented by July 1, but Hill said he's worried about potential broken promises.
"Some funding for Promise is protected, but some comes from general revenue. If the budget cut is applied across the board, which is what's currently being proposed, that number will go down," Hill said. "We go out a year in advance and tell students that they're going to qualify for the scholarship. We could have a problem fulfilling that commitment to all of those students."
If the budget cuts pass, the HEPC could alter the scholarship to make it work, but they need time, Hill said.
"If we knew a year in advance that we were only going to have a certain amount of money, we could potentially go in and raise the standard, which would cut down on students [who] qualify. Or, we could cut down the amount of money we provide, which is going to cover less and less of tuition as rates increase," he said. "Every time you increase standards, you eliminate low-income students because they tend to not score as high on exams by no fault of their own."