For one local family, a PROMISE means something

By Bill Frye Register-Herald Reporter

One local family, like many others across West Virginia, is anxiously awaiting word on whether or not the state’s PROMISE scholarship will be funded.

PROMISE scholarships were created by the state legislature in 2001. They award financial assistance up to $4,750 to students who achieve academic standards based on grade point average and ACT test scores in high school. Students can have the aid extended while in college if, once again, they achieve a set of academic standards.

The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission sent a letter to school administrators throughout the state saying the scholarship could not be awarded without a state budget in place.

“Until next year’s state budget is confirmed, however, our agency does not have the ability to commit funds for that budget year, which runs from July 1, 2016, to June 30, 2017,” the letter obtained by The Register-Herald stated.

For Cindy and David Rhudy of Ghent, awaiting word on the PROMISE application of their daughter, Rebecca, is stress-inducing. The couple’s youngest son, Josh, who is already attending college, is awaiting word on whether his PROMISE scholarship will be renewed for his second year. Their oldest son, Scott, also received the scholarship before transferring to a school in Florida.

Cindy Rhudy, family and consumer science teacher at Shady Spring High School, said the scholarship is not only crucial for her children to be able to attend college but for many of the students she teaches as well.

“The PROMISE Scholarship is vital to many hard-working students and their families,” Rhudy said. “Many students rely on the PROMISE scholarship to attend college, and they might not otherwise be able to attend without it.”

Rhudy said eliminating the scholarship would be harmful to West Virginians.

“Cutting the PROMISE would place unnecessary hardships on many students and families and should not be an option,” Rhudy said. “If our state leaders cut funding for this wonderful program, it would represent a broken promise to students who deserve to attend college in West Virginia.”

Rhudy, who called the PROMISE program a “godsend” for her family, said, “There have to be other ways to deal with the budget crisis. Our students should not be the ones who should suffer.”

The Shady Spring teacher said she has many students who have qualified for the scholarship and are anxiously awaiting word on the award as it could mean the difference between attending or not attending college in the fall.

Rhudy stated that without the scholarship, her son, Josh, would not have been able to attend college despite all his hard work to get there.

She said Josh took AP courses, applied for student loans and took part-time jobs to get himself to college.

Josh pushed himself to get the scholarship, Rhudy said, because he was concerned about racking up significant debt.

Adding up all expenses, it now costs a little more than $32,000 a year to attend West Virginia University for one year.

She said her son and soon-to-be high school graduate daughter are just two examples of the many students she sees daily.

“The students who receive the scholarship work really hard to earn it,” Rhudy said. “They want to better themselves and their future families and help their parents.”

According to Superintendent of Summers County Schools Vicki Hinerman, approximately 22 students were awarded the PROMISE scholarship last year. Hinerman said PROMISE-eligible students for 2015-16 are still being determined.

Deborah White, director of secondary education of Greenbrier County Schools, said approximately 60 students in that county are in PROMISE limbo.

Frank Blackwell, superintendent of Wyoming County Schools, noted approximately 38 students are eligible in Wyoming County for the scholarship but that number may grow once more scores come in from May and June testing.

“This will certainly affect a student’s ability to attend a higher education institution,” said Fayette County Schools Superintendent Terry George.

George did not have numbers available at press time of students in Fayette County eligible for the PROMISE scholarship.

“While we are very optimistic that the governor and the Legislature will fund PROMISE and the Higher Education Grant program, along with the Engineering, Science and Technology Scholarship, in next year’s budget, we must delay award letters for the time being because there isn’t, just yet, a budget in place. We cannot guarantee funds that have not yet been appropriated,” the HEPC letter stated.

The West Virginia Legislature has been called into a special session beginning today to discuss the budget.

“Chancellor Paul Hill and Chancellor Sarah Tucker have been making a strong case for state-funded scholarships and financial aid as budget deliberations continue,” the letter stated. “As soon as the budget picture becomes clearer, award letters are prepared and ready to mail — with an exciting and impressive new design for PROMISE that will make your students and their families very proud.”