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Promise scholars more likely to come from wealthy families

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Promise scholars more likely to come from wealthy families
By Samuel Speciale, Education Reporter, WV Gazette-Mail

Promise scholars are more likely to be female and come from wealthy families, says a new report on the state’s financial aid programs

.A recent West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission report, which looked at the state’s merit-based scholarship and need-based grants, found first-year Promise recipients whose parents earn more than $90,000 increased over the last five years, from 38.7 percent in 2009 to 44.1 percent in 2014. More than 90 percent of 2014 Promise scholars were white, compared to more than 93 percent of the state’s population in 2014. Nearly 60 percent of Promise scholars were female.

The reason wealthier students are more likely to earn the Promise scholarship may involve better access to academic resources, which improves their chances of meeting Promise requirements, said Brian Weingart, director of financial aid for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

While access to more resources may lead to more scholarship opportunities, Weingart said students from higher income brackets tend to do better on standardized tests than their lower-income peers.

“I’m speculating here, but kids whose parents make $90,000 have more resources to take the ACT and SAT more than once,” he said, later adding they also have better access to tutoring services.

Regardless of income, the number of Promise scholars is increasing.

While the amount of the Promise award has hardly changed over the last five years, hovering around $46 million, the number of recipients has increased from 9,456 in 2009 to 10,224 in 2014. During that same timespan, the average award has decreased from $4,833 to $4,538 thanks to scholarship caps enacted by the Legislature. When created in 2004, the scholarship paid the full tuition for students attending an in-state college. The award was capped at $4,750 in 2009.The majority of Promise scholars attend four-year public colleges, with West Virginia and Marshall universities being their preferred destinations.

While more wealthy students are receiving the Promise scholarship, so are more low-income students. The majority of West Virginia students come from poor families. The number of students who come from households earning less than $30,000 account for 16.1 percent of Promise scholars, a 1.4 percent increase in the last five years.

During the last five years, students coming from the middle income brackets of $30,000 to $59,000 and $60,000 to $89,000 have decreased 2.1 and 4.7 percent, respectively.

More than a third of Promise scholars also receive the state’s Higher Education Grant, a need-based financial aid program with maximum awards of $2,600.Weingart said the grant, as well as federal and institutional financial aid, can help fill the gap for low-income students who may otherwise not be able to afford college tuition.

“Grants can be stacked,” he said, later adding the ability to do so greatly benefits low-income students who may not do as well on standardized tests that determine Promise eligibility.

Regardless of income, the state offers financial aid and test preparation resources for students through the College Foundation of West Virginia’s website, www.cfwv.com.

The Higher Education Policy Commission helps coordinate workshops for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a form all students must complete before entering college if they hope to receive any type of financial aid.

Weingart said a multi-site workshop called College Goal Sunday is planned for Feb. 21. More information about that program can be found at www.collegegoalsundaywv.org.