Budget Cuts Could Affect PROMISE

CHARLESTON (AP) – Proposed state budget cuts could hurt students who need West Virginia’s PROMISE scholarship to attend college, Higher Education Policy Commission Chairman Paul Hill said.

The commission has asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to exempt higher education and financial aid programs from his proposed 7.5 percent budget cut for all state agencies.

If the exemption isn’t granted, the commission could have difficulty fulfilling its PROMISE commitments to students, who are notified a year in advance that they have been awarded the scholarship, Hill said.

“We will have to tell a number of students, ‘You did everything right, but we don’t have enough money.’ And that would be a very serious problem for us,” Hill said.

The scholarship pays $4,750 of tuition for in-state students who maintained a B average in high school and scored at least a 22 composite score on the ACT. Students who maintain a 3.0 average can use the scholarship to help pay for four years of college.

“If we knew a year in advance that we were only going to have a certain amount of money, we could potentially go in and raise the standard, which would cut down on students (who) qualify. Or, we could cut down the amount of money we provide, which is going to cover less and less of tuition as rates increase,” Hill said. “Every time you increase standards, you eliminate low-income students because they tend to not score as high on exams by no fault of their own.”

Due to the PROMISE scholarship and the state’s Higher Education Grant Program, West Virginia is ranked fifth in the nation for grant aid per fulltime student. But the state is shifting more of the cost of a college education to students.

The state provides 34 cents on the dollar for tuition, compared to about 60 cents a decade ago. The national average is about 50 cents on the dollar.

“We’re supported less than most states. Students are carrying more of the weight now for their education than the state is providing. You can see why those tuition numbers have had to creep up,” Hill said. “Budgets have grown in terms of dollar amounts, but state appropriation has not. Meanwhile, we’re serving more students and dollars are spreading thin. That’s why college is becoming more expensive for students.”

The commission plans to tell lawmakers during the 2013 regular session that the state’s investment in higher education is important.

“More students can afford to go to school by having state tax dollars support the institutions,” Hill said. “We don’t know if it’s going to happen, but we’re figuring out what the possible scenarios are. We’re trying to make the numbers work with the potential impact of a proposed cut.”

Last year, 9,820 students received more than $47 million in PROMISE scholarships.