CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A group of West Virginia University students are planning to visit the Capitol Tuesday with hopes of restoring the Promise Scholarship to cover full tuition and fees for students who attend public universities in state.
Kristen Pennington, who chairs the WVU Students Advocates of Legislative Advamcent, said, "Up until 2009, when I graduated from high school, the Promise Scholarship program paid full tuition coverage for students at public colleges in West Virginia.
"Now, every student [who graduated in 2010 or later] who qualifies for a Promise Scholarship only gets $4,750 a year."
During the current academic year, tuition and fees at West Virginia University average $6,090 for state residents.
Pennington said students plan to meet with legislators and other state officials. They have already scheduled meetings with Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, and Del. Mary M. Poling, D-Barbour, House Education Committee chairwoman.
Legislation has been recently introduced to add state money to increase the value of Promise Scholarships to cover the full tuition and fees for students attending public universities in the state.
However, the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission does not support any reforms to the program, saying an increase in funds would lead to fiscal shortfalls.
Sen. Robert D. Beach, D-Monongalia, is sponsoring the legislation (SB 339), while Del. Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, introduced the House bill (HB 2581 ).
Co-sponsors of the House bill are Delegates Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley; Tiffany Elizabeth Lawrence, D-Jefferson; Phil Diserio, D-Brooke; Adam R. Young, D-Nicholas; Dale Stephens, D-Cabell; Carol Miller, R-Cabell; Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell; Linda Longstreth, D-Marion; Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia; and Anthony Barill, D-Monongalia.
Fleishchauer's bill would deposit $3,409,525 in state money into the "Education Improvement Fund ... for the purpose of providing tuition and fee awards for Promise scholars at public institutions."
That money would go to freshmen who qualify for Promise scholarships for the 2013-2014 academic year. Similar funds would be needed to fund each of the next three entering classes at state universities and colleges.
But in its recently issued 2012 "West Virginia Financial Aid Comprehensive Report," the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission does not support those reforms.
Legislative changes made in 2009 to the Promise Scholarship program set the "floor" value of current scholarships at $4,750.
"At the conclusion of the 2012-13 academic year, the last full class of Promise recipients who were eligible for full tuition and mandatory fees will have utilized their four years of scholarship eligibility.
"Starting with the 2013-14 academic year, the Promise Scholarship program will realize the full savings of 2009 Senate Bill 373 where the award amount was set at a floor of $4,750.
"Given a stable financial outlook, the Higher Education Student Financial Aid Advisory Board and the Higher Education Policy Commission recommended no changes" in eligibility criteria or scholarship amounts, the Commission report states.
If current funding levels change, the Commission added that it "would then need to consider changes to the Promise Scholarship Program. No further policy changes are recommended at this time."
Commission Vice Chancellor for Policy and Planning Angela Bell sent Pennington a table showing potential shortfalls, at the current funding level of $47.5 million, if full Promise Scholarship tuition and fees are restored.
Total shortfalls in upcoming fiscal years would grow from $3.4 million in 2014 to $6.2 million in 2015, $8.9 million in 2016 and $12.2 million in 2017.
When the Legislature created the Promise program in 2001, most money to fund the new scholarships came from Excess Lottery Fund proceeds.