State college financial aid awardees still waiting on a budget

By Shauna Johnson in News
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Upwards of $90 million in state financial aid awards for West Virginia’s incoming and current college students remains in limbo.

Just more than three weeks ahead of the start of the new fiscal year, a state budget for 2017 has not yet been finalized.

In addition to the PROMISE Scholarship, the merit-based financial aid program providing up to $4,750 annually to cover the cost of tuition and fees at West Virginia higher education institutions, recipients of a number of other state grants and scholarships are still waiting on word.

They include recipients of the West Virginia Higher Education Grant Program, for students attending college full-time who demonstrate a financial need, and the West Virginia Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student Grant Program (HEAPS), a need-based grant program for students attending college part-time.

“We’re ready to go and process. As soon as the Legislature and the governor pass a budget, we’re ready to make awards,” Brian Weingart, senior director of financial aid for the Higher Education Policy Commission, told MetroNews on Monday.

“As of right now, we don’t anticipate any delays in getting the payments out to the colleges in the fall.”

The $4.022 billion spending plan the Legislature sent Governor Earl Ray Tomblin last week after nearly three weeks in Special Session fully funded the PROMISE Scholarship and included no overall cuts to higher education, according to legislative leaders.

A Tomblin veto was expected largely because the budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1, as proposed, is balanced using $182 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

“It’s completely unworkable. It’s an irresponsible plan and it’s not one that the governor can support,” said Chris Stadelman, Tomblin Administration communications director, on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

Lawmakers are scheduled to resume the Special Session on Sunday, June 12.

Whatever form the budget takes, Weingart said he’s confident lawmakers will not drastically reduce the amount allocated to the Mountain State’s college financial aid programs.

“Everyone has voiced support for fully funding these programs,” he said.

For now, Weingart said — like so many others — all they can do is wait and provide the best information they have to students, parents and others.

“We get calls from a lot of students’ parents, from the colleges themselves, also from high school counselors, just with questions about the processing of PROMISE and higher education grants and all our other state financial aid programs,” Weingart said.

Though the deadlines have passed for most of West Virginia’s state-level financial aid programs for the upcoming school year at this point, applications for federal student aid, including Pell grants and loans, are still being accepted.

Free Applications for Federal Student Aid can be submitted here.

Additional assistance with college planning is available here.