West Virginia college students won’t have to maintain minimum grade point averages to continue receiving free community college tuition or money from Promise Scholarships, Higher Education Grants and a couple other state scholarship programs for next academic year.
Before Friday, students would have had to keep at least a 2.0 GPA to continue receiving free tuition to pursue associate’s degrees at public community colleges.
They will still have to meet the other requirements of the West Virginia Invests program, but not the community-service hours requirement, which also is being waived because of campus closures sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Freshmen would have had to maintain at least a 2.75 GPA and upperclassmen would have had to keep at least a 3.0 GPA to continue receiving the Promise, West Virginia’s signature scholarship for full-time students.
Sarah Tucker, chancellor of the state’s higher education oversight agencies, said she recommended waiving the GPA requirements because of how colleges are trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Mostly, they’re transitioning to online classes. Several, including West Virginia and Marshall universities, have almost completely canceled in-person classes for the rest of the spring semester.
“There is the possibility that some of these needed changes [to instruction] could have potential negative consequences for our students,” Tucker said.
“There are students for whom online learning is not an option that suits their individual abilities, there are semesters that are having to be completely reworked,” she said. “Grades, weighing of courses, are having to be completely redone, and all of that will ultimately have an effect on our students’ GPAs, and that’s no fault of the student and it’s no fault of the college.
“They’re doing what they need to do in order to get us through the semester, but what we don’t want to have happen is for a student who otherwise would have qualified for the Promise Scholarship in the fall to not be able to qualify.”
Additionally, the deadline for applying to receive the Higher Education Grant will be moved from April 15 to May 15.
“The Higher Education Grant Program application is essentially the completion of the FAFSA,” Tucker said, referring to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a fundamental document high-schoolers need to complete to get all sorts of state and federal money to help pay for college.
Tucker said students work closely with teachers, counselors and others at their high schools to complete the FAFSA, but that’s difficult right now because Gov. Jim Justice ordered all prekindergarten-to-12th-grade public schools closed at the start of this week.
“Those students are going to need some extra support, and it’s going to take more time,” Tucker said.
The board of the Higher Education Policy Commission, the oversight agency for West Virginia’s four-year colleges, approved the Promise and Higher Education Grant changes Friday in a voice vote with no nays heard. Bob Brown was the only board member absent for the teleconference meeting.
The board of the Community and Technical College System, the oversight agency for those colleges, approved the free community college tuition changes Friday in a separate voice vote with no nays heard. Board members Brown, Ken Boggs and Chuck Parker were absent.
Tucker also announced Friday that, because of cancellations of college entrance exam testing dates this spring, high-schoolers who take the SAT in June or the ACT in June or July will be able to use scores from those tests to qualify for the Promise Scholarship.
“If something happens in June and July, and there’s a problem with those tests, we’re going to have to come back together and figure it out,” she said.