The Times West Virginian

February 2, 2014

Students, state benefit greatly if the Promise remains strong

Times West Virginian

— Back in 2001, West Virginia made a strong investment in its young people.

The Promise Scholarship was introduced. Students meeting prescribed standards had their tuition paid if they elected to receive their higher education at a West Virginia institution.

The program, due to budgetary concerns, has changed over the years. The scholarship now covers $4,750 for students, while the average in-state tuition is more than $6,000. Higher standards for students have also been imposed.

Currently, 10,000 students in West Virginia are attending college on the scholarship.

It’s a program of tremendous value to the students, and the state wins, as well.

A study released last week by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economics found that Promise recipients are more likely than other state students to stay in West Virginia after graduation. On average, just 43 percent of students who earn a bachelor’s degree in West Virginia stay here to build their careers. By contrast, 60 percent of Promise students stay.

Listen to the words of Kristen Pennington, chair of the West Virginia University Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement, who attended a meeting in Charleston last Tuesday to discuss the future of the Promise scholarship.

Pennington, who was in the last high school class to receive the scholarship at the fully funded rate, has committed to staying in West Virginia for the rest of her life.

“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 was quoted by The Charleston Gazette. “This is a state worth investing in, and the Promise invests in students — and I’m a little biased — but they’re worth investing in as well.”

Those who led the implementation of the Promise Scholarship remain strong supporters.

Former Gov. Bob Wise noted the strong numbers of recipients who moved on to good-paying jobs in West Virginia.

“The refrain usually runs, ‘What’s the point of educating them if the jobs aren’t there?’” he told the Charleston Daily Mail. “But if we don’t have educated young people, those jobs aren’t coming here. My hope is that these students who are the hardest working will create the seeds of not only their own success but our own success as a state as well.”

Lloyd Jackson, a member of the West Virginia Board of Education and former state senator who sponsored the bill establishing Promise, believes the scholarship is an economic driver that needs even stronger support in the Legislature.

“We have a state that’s financially very solid, that’s ready to move into the future,” he said. “I’m convinced the jobs are going to be here if we have the people here to take them ... and Promise is a tool that I think we’re not taking full advantage of.”

He noted that students responded when tougher standards were put in place.

“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.”

A well-educated work force is critical if West Virginia is to see its economy diversify and grow and its population loss to end, and we know Promise contributes strongly to that objective.

“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 said. “People have got to realize that the single best investment they can make is in the Promise.”

West Virginia students are doing their part to earn the Promise Scholarship and have stayed in state in strong numbers after graduation. It’s essential that West Virginia leaders do all they can to keep Promise strong.