By Mackenzie Mays
The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise and state education officials met Tuesday to discuss the future of the Promise scholarship, which has gradually been hit with budget cuts since it was introduced more than a decade ago.
The Promise -- a state-funded merit-based scholarship which helps pay four-year tuition for students attending West Virginia colleges -- once meant a free ride for recipients. Now, the scholarship covers only $4,750 for students, while the average in-state tuition is more than $6,000.
In addition, higher standards have been imposed over the years in an effort to curb costs, moving the required ACT composite score up to 22, along with sub-score and GPA requirements.
"You're the generation that will determine whether or not the Promise continues. The Promise is a promise, if we can keep it, and it has steadily been chipped away at," Wise, who organized the scholarship as governor and now serves as the head of the national Alliance for Excellent Education, said at a panel discussion at the Clay Center. "People have got to realize that the single best investment they can make is in the Promise... That's why it's so critical that those of you in this room and many others make sure that the legislature and elected officials know how important it is."
At the center of the scholarship is its goal to retain talented West Virginians, and give them incentive to stay and work in the state. That's why the scholarship is as important to the state's economy as it is to the individual student, Wise said.
"The future of the Promise is really making sure that everyone understands the vision of it and the necessity of it," he said.
Generation Charleston hosted the informational Promise event on Tuesday, which in addition to Wise, included a panel made up of Lloyd Jackson, member of the state board of education; Paul Hill, chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission; Stephen Kopp, president of Marshall University; Kristen Pennington, chair of the West Virginia University Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement and Lizzy Margolin, associate attorney with Bowles Rice and a former Promise Scholarship recipient.
Jackson, who spearheaded the scholarship, said that instead of viewing the increased number of scholars over the years as more costs and edging up those requirements to save money, the state should've invested even more in the program to keep it going fully funded.
"Low and behold, what happened was those students started getting [higher scores], which is exactly what we wanted to happen. So we raised it again, and then more kids got it. And so what's the legislative response? Don't fund the program," Jackson said. "Why not fund the thing? Fund the program that's getting accomplished what we set out to accomplish."
"I think we ought to go back to fully funding the Promise. What we found was that every time, kids will rise to meet the challenge," he said. "We ought to be tickled to death in West Virginia if we can move ahead in national numbers."
Currently, 10,000 students in the state are attending college on the scholarship.
One of those students who have received the Promise is Pennington, who said because of it, she is promising to stay in the state for the rest of her life. She was in the last high school class to receive the scholarship at the fully funded rate.
"It has made me ready to give my entire life to the state of West Virginia. I want to stay here for grad school, I want to stay here for law school, I want to stay here for work, to get married, to have children," Pennington said. "This is a state worth investing in, and the Promise invests in students -- and I'm a little bias -- but they're worth investing in as well."