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. Putting money from gambling proceeds into the scholarship program was a major factor that helped convince some legislators to support making slot machines legal in gambling sites throughout the state when Bob Wise was governor. "Since then, increasingly more money has been taken from the actual state budget," Pennington said. "The number of Promise Scholars and tuition rates have both increased. "With these growing rates, the Excess Lottery formula for the Promise Scholarship should be increased," she said. Raamie Barker, senior adviser to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, questioned whether it is wise to have the Promise Scholarship program automatically pay for all increases in college tuition and fees. "What happens when you do that is you give colleges a blank check to raise tuition any time they want to. Then the state has to fork over whatever it costs. "There has to be some way of keeping the college administrations in check on that," Barker said. "It is not realistic to expect the Lottery system to pay for tuition and fees at whatever rate they are. That would inflate them too fast. And it also puts a burden on those students who don't get Promise Scholarships." During the current fiscal year, $18.5 million of the $47.5 million for Promise Scholarships came from the state's general revenue funds. The other $29 million came from the Excess Lottery Fund, which totaled $290.6 million this year. Today, WVU gets 44 percent of the money from all Promise Scholarships, while Marshall University gets 16.9 percent. Other costs are also rising for students, Pennington said. "Many students have huge problems finding affordable housing and textbooks. Since 1978, the prices of textbooks have increased at three times the rate of inflation." "Since Promise has been capped to $4,750 for every high school graduating class since 2010, more students have found difficulty in going to college and staying in college," according to a statement prepared by Pennington. Promise Scholarship Qualifications To qualify for a Promise Scholarship, a student and his or her parents must have lived in West Virginia for at least 12 months before applying for the scholarship, unless the student was serving in the Armed Forces. Students must also:
Meet all graduation requirements at a West Virginia public or private high school.
Earn a "cumulative grade point average" in high school of at least a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, or whatever is considered to be a "B" average.
Have a composite score of 22 on the ACT test, with minimum scores of 20 in English, mathematics, science and reading.
Or have a composite score of 1020 on the SAT test, with a minimum of 480 in mathematics and 490 in critical reading.
To keep a Promise Scholarship, a student must maintain at least a "B" average and earn at least 30 academic credits during each academic year.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.