Get More Degrees Into W.Va. Hands

What if you were giving away millions of dollars to young people, but the number of them asking for it had dropped dramatically during the past three years? You’d wonder what on earth was going on.

That’s a good question, especially because it involves the future of our state.

Officials of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission reported this week that the number of young people receiving state Promise scholarships has dropped.

For high school graduates whose grades qualify them for the help, it is a good deal. If they keep their grades up in college, Promise will pay up to $4,750 a year of their tuition at West Virginia institutions of higher learning, both public and private.

Legislators fund the Promise program – $47.5 million in hard-earned taxpayers’ money this year – to increase the state’s dismal rate of residents with college degrees. That is important not just to the young people, but to the state’s attractiveness to businesses that create jobs.

In 2009, 14,692 students applied for Promise scholarships. This year, just 11,433 sought them. And of the 3,689 who qualified, 585 didn’t accept the money. Presumably, they chose to attend colleges or universities out of state, or not to pursue higher education at all.

Higher education Chancellor Paul Hill gave several reasons for the drop-off in Promise awards. Fewer high school graduates, not enough interest in going to college and lack of preparedness among many high school seniors for higher education were among factors he cited.

Obviously, the Promise program isn’t working as well as hoped – at least not without help overcoming some of the other challenges Hill cited.

West Virginia simply must provide better educations for more of our young people. Clearly, simply throwing money at the problem hasn’t solved it.