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Education programs offer W.Va. incentives

A recently announced program intended to encourage students from West Virginia University's School of Dentistry to remain in state is one of several with the same mission.

The programs provide monetary incentives for students to practice their specialties in areas of need, something Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Paul Hills thinks is vital for West Virginia.

"There has not been an incentive for people necessarily to return to or move to those communities," Hill said.

Through the WVU program, dental students would receive up to $50,000 in federal funding for practicing two years in areas of great need. Although it would only be available to five students per year, Hill said he thinks it's a step in the right direction.

There are also programs offered through the commission with similar incentives for teachers and heath professionals, according to information provided by the commission.

The Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship provides up to $5,000 a year for undergraduate education at a West Virginia institute of higher education. In order to receive the money, though, the student must agree to teach at a West Virginia public school two years for every year that student receives aid. A student receiving the scholarship all four years of college would therefore need to teach eight years in a West Virginia public school.

That commitment bumps down to one year per years of scholarship received if the teacher goes to an area in need, a school with traditionally low test scores or an economically disadvantaged area.

The Health Sciences Scholarship program offers 25 scholarships each year, with $20,000 available for a medical student and $10,000 for students pursuing nurse practitioner or educator, physical therapist, physicians assistant, clinical psychologist or clinical social worker.

The money is a "recruitment incentive" though: students must complete service obligations or pay back the entire award amount received.

The obligations include working for two years in underserved, rural areas for some fields of study. Similar commitments are required of every student who receives the assistance. More information about both programs is available from the commission.

The money most certainly comes with strings attached, but Hill and other education officials believe it is a worthwhile incentive for students to thrive in and help West Virginia. When these programs show some success, Hill also think state lawmakers should consider expanding or creating similar programs for other areas of need.

"I think that is a positive thing," Hill said. "If we can find resources to apply to some of these critical need areas, it's going to provide an additional incentive for student who might not have looked at that situation, and build support for communities all across the state."

Last legislative session at least two measures were presented that addressed providing incentives for students who remain in West Virginia. Both were discussed but did not become law.  

 Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at



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