Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Don't Go Back On The PROMISE

According to recent reports and editorial discussions from around the state, West Virginia's government is considering ways to revamp the PROMISE scholarship. For those of you who don't know what that is, the PROMISE (the word itself is an acronym for a trite statement of its mission-Ed.) was designed to keep West Virginian students in-state for college in hopes that they would stay and become part of the state's workforce. It pays full tuition to any public college in the state (or partial to any private college) for 8 semesters. Currently, the state government is trying to decide what (if anything) to change about the scholarship. A report from the AP states that PROMISE Director Lisa DeFrank-Cole expects funding costs for the scholarship to reach $39 million this year, rising to $42 million by 2008. In the same article, PROMISE Scholarship Board member Frank Calabrese is quoted as saying, "The Legislature will not watch this go from $40 million to $60 million to $100 million. They won't do it."

Hold the phone and stop the presses, because I've got a reality check coming in: There is no need to "fix" the PROMISE. After all, nothing is broken.

Why do I say that? Well, the PROMISE has only been around for four years. In other words, this is the first year that it is paying out to seniors and freshmen alike. The only way that the costs will increase beyond this point is if the number of scholars increases drastically (which is not projected to happen) or if tuition increases. A word of advice to colleges across the state: If you're going to raise tuition, it would be best to make the raise more drastic for out-of-state students. PROMISE has had some real benefit for academics in this state. I personally believe that it has helped curb WVU's party school image and raise its academic standards; a lot of the better in-state students used to pass on WVU because it was so expensive in comparison to other schools, and the hardest-partying out-of-staters used to come here because of its infamous status. Thanks to PROMISE, I can go to WVU for the same money as (if not less than) Shepherd University, which doesn't offer journalism but used to be the only feasible option for Eastern Panhandle residents.

Some people reportedly believe that capping the scholarship's payout at $3,000 would be a good idea, but WVU's tuition is about $4,200, so that would be ineffective. Still others want to see lesser awards for students whose families make $100,000 a year or more, which basically turns the PROMISE into a need-based scholarship and totally defeats its original purpose. Why would you not want to see higher-income students - who most likely have been given more resources for future success - stay in West Virginia? Besides, scholarships aren't exactly free; you really don't want to know what I had to pay in taxes on them last year.

As for what Frank Calabrese said, it'll be a very long time (if ever) before this scholarship starts costing $100 million, especially when you think about the hard economics of the situation. I know his quote sounds all dramatic and serious, but I hope the state media stops quoting him, because it's a radical exaggeration of the truth. Even if it were that costly, we shouldn't have any trouble affording it. PROMISE is funded by the state video lottery, which was a billion-dollar industry this past year. The state's net profit from all lottery games was $563 million, a 10 percent increase over 2004-05. If the state can't find the funding to keep PROMISE running, then someone needs to look into where exactly that money is going.

The current percentage of West Virginians age 25 and older with a college degree is 16.3. That's a full 8 points lower than the national average of 24.7. If you value the future of this state and of its students, then you have a PROMISE to keep.

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