Number of Promise Scholarship recipients declines
The number of first time Promise Scholarship recipients is at the lowest level in four years, according to data from the state Higher Education Policy Commission.
There were 3,104 new Promise scholars attending West Virginia colleges and universities this fall, about 200 fewer than last year. That brings the total number to 9,769, about 50 fewer than last year.
There are a number of reasons, Commission Chancellor Paul Hill said in an emailed statement.
"Those factors include, but are not limited to: the total number of high school seniors; high school graduation rates; academic preparedness; college-going rates; and college choice," Hill said in the statement.
The Promise is awarded to high-achieving high school students. A student must earn at least a 3.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale and score above a 22 on the ACT, without scoring below 20 on any of its components.
The student also must live in West Virginia and plan to attend an in-state institute of higher education. Students must continue to meet grade and credit-hour requirements at the college level to keep receiving the award.
West Virginia University continues to enroll the most Promise scholars.
However, the 4,296 scholars at WVU this fall are about 100 fewer than last year. Marshall University saw the largest increase in Promise scholars among four-year public institutions, jumping from 1,646 recipients last year to 1,779 students this fall.
The number of Promise scholars decreased most at four-year private, nonprofit schools.
With its number dropping from 52 to five, the soon-to-be-closed Mountain State University accounted for a large chunk of that decline. The University of Charleston, which is tentatively scheduled to take over Mountain State operations in Beckley and Martinsburg, also saw a decline, as did Wheeling Jesuit University.
The number at any given institution can fluctuate in the course of the year as schools update enrollment information.
Of the 11,433 students who applied for the award this year, 3,689 met the scholarship requirements. In his statement Hill pointed out that the numbers of students qualifying for Promise and retaining the scholarship have remained relatively stable over the last five years.
There has been a significant decline in the number of students applying for the award.
In 2009-10, 14,692 students applied. That number dropped to 11,389 the following year.
Before 2010, Promise scholars received the full price of tuition at any public university in the state. If a recipient attended a private university, he or she would receive the same amount of tuition charged by the most expensive public school.
To cut back on costs, state officials in 2010 capped the award at $4,750. Students who earned the award before that time still would receive full tuition - this is the final year in which a class of Promise recipients is receiving full tuition - but legislators hoped the costs would go down once all of those students graduated.
The average cost of tuition for an in-state student at a public university in West Virginia currently is $5,459. There is $47.5 million budgeted for the Promise scholarship this year.
Higher education officials have repeatedly warned that more tuition increases could be on the horizon if state funding is cut. In a letter Hill sent to state budget officials earlier this fall, he said the Promise scholarship also could be negatively affected by the cuts.
The governor's office has asked state agencies to cut their budgets for next year by 7.5 percent. Nothing is set in stone, but if that cut were to be finalized, that could mean a tuition increase of about 5 percent at every public institution in the state, Hill said in October.
In his letter to budget officials, Hill said budget cuts might mean less money for Promise. The award amount is set in code, but commission officials have said they believe they could change academic requirements if a funding shortfall was anticipated.
In his letter to budget officials, Hill also said cuts
could force consideration of legislation that would make students planning to attend a private college or university ineligible.
Hill and commission representatives have repeatedly said no cuts or changes to the program are planned at this time.