Poorer WV Students Not Using Promise Scholarships

Poor West Virginia students are attending college less frequently than they did before the state’s Promise scholarship started seven years ago.

Low-income students’ college-going rate has dropped from about 21 percent in 2001 – the year before the program started – to about 19 percent in 2007, according to a committee that studied the merit based scholarship program.

The national average is about 24 percent.

“Even though we noted that it was a national trend, it seemed to be more of a problem in West Virginia,” according to former Concord University president Jerry Beasley, who chaired the Promise Scholarship Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee.

The report said that with all income levels, the state’s college-going rate has increased modestly, from 56.4 percent to 57.5 percent.

Gov. Joe Manchin requested a review of Promise after a variety of changes had been proposed by the Legislature.

A recent Promise recommendation says the scholarship should be capped at $4,500 a year to control costs of the $42 million program.

The scholarship now covers all tuition and fees at public institutions.

West Virginia is one of 16 states that offer merit aid, which can become “exponentially expensive” due to its popularity and rising tuition rates.

As high school ACT score requirements have risen, to control costs of West Virginia’s program, poor students have lost out.

Promise scholars are increasingly from higher-income families, according to the report.

The state is committed to helping students from all income levels attend college.

Raising eligibility criteria is also confusing to students and parents, with the requirements changing three times in the past five years.