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A 78 percent tuition subsidy is a good deal

HERE are a couple of truisms about government subsidies:

Over time, they become entitlements.

They never get smaller.

The Promise Scholarship program uses state money to pay tuition and fees for West Virginia students who attend in-state colleges and meet certain academic requirements. Facing annual increases in the costs, a few years ago the Legislature capped the scholarship at $4,750.

It was a smart decision. The cap has kept state spending on the Promise at $47.5 million a year.

This week, a group of WVU students lobbied lawmakers at the state Capitol to raise the cap on the Promise Scholarship so it covers the entire cost of tuition and fees at state colleges. At WVU, that would mean $6,090 - $1,340 more than the state is subsidizing now.

Kirsten Pennington of a group called WVU Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement, told the Charleston Gazette that because of the cap, a student "who qualifies for a Promise Scholarship only gets $4,750 a year."

Well, getting 78 percent of your tuition and fees paid while maintaining a modest "B" average is still a pretty sweet deal.

Pennington and her fellow students have support, however. Legislation has been introduced in the House and Senate to fully fund the entire cost of tuition and fees.

The problem, however, is that when the state guarantees that amount, no matter the cost, it drives up prices.

State colleges and universities know they can increase tuition and fees and not necessarily impact enrollment because taxpayers are going to pick up the cost.

One of the arguments for passing Promise in the first place was that it would help keep the best and the brightest in West Virginia. But it's questionable whether West Virginia is getting a good rate of return on its investment.

A 2009 report by the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that while 62 percent of Promise scholars stayed in the state after graduation, 67 percent of all in-state college grads remained in West Virginia.

Additionally, the Promise is not the only option for students. Go to the WVU website and you'll find myriad scholarships, loans, grants and student employment opportunities.

A four-year degree at a West Virginia college or university is a benefit, but it's not an entitlement.

As such, it's not the responsibility of taxpayers to help subsidize the college education of a student who, research has shown, likely comes from a middle-class family that can afford to pay for college.

The WVU students lobbying for the increase in the Promise should be complimented, even if they are misguided.

It's refreshing to have students in the news for civics rather than couch burning.

And there's an Economics 101 lesson here: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.


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