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Promise scholarships need a quick review

THE drop in the number of people receiving Promise scholarships is small but unnerving. State officials need to investigate why the number of applicants for up to $4,750 a year in tuition money has dropped.

Lawmakers also need to determine whether Promise has met its goal of improving the work force by increasing the percentage of West Virginians with college degrees.

There are a number of reasons for the decline in applicants, said Paul Hill, chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission.

"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.

Another apparent factor is the $4,750 a year cap placed on the scholarships in 2010.

In 2009, 14,692 students applied for scholarships. The next year, 11,389 did.

This year, 11,433 applied and 3,689 students qualified, but only 3,104 students accepted a Promise scholarship and attended a college in West Virginia.

Perhaps they got a better deal elsewhere or simply decided against attending college.

One factor for the decline in applications that Hill cited - academic preparedness - reflects poorly on students and the state of public schools.

West Virginia taxpayers spend more than $2 billion a year in state, local and federal taxes to support public education. Taxpayers expect high school graduates to be ready for college.

There is good news. In the first decade of this century, the number of degrees awarded by public colleges rose 27.9 percent, including a 42.7 percent increase in two-year degrees and a 15.5 percent increase in bachelor's degrees.

Officials need to determine how much of that increase is attributable to the Promise program and how many of those newly degreed people stayed in West Virginia.

As for improving the college-going rate, it stood at 56 percent in 2001, the year before Promise.

Ten years later, the rate was 58 percent.

Lawmakers budgeted $47.5 million for Promise scholarships this year. The effectiveness of the program should determine the level of its funding in more austere times.


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