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PROMISE plan pays off with a big crop of pupils

August 16, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Apparently it was a lack of money and not a lack of desire that kept many West Virginians from going to college.

That's the conclusion we came to after West Virginia University reported that 40 percent of its incoming freshman class will pay at least part of their tuition with PROMISE scholarships. Any doubts anyone had about the program, or the need for more citizens to get college degrees, should be dispelled by now.

The PROMISE program was set up during the administration of Gov. Cecil Underwood, but the legislature didn't fund it until video poker was legalized after a push by Gov. Bob Wise.

It gives scholarships to students who score at least a 21 on the ACT college entrance exam and maintain a B average while in college. The amount of scholarship cash available now is about $2,000 per student, but that's expected to grow over the next two years.

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For West Virginia University, the influx is a mixed blessing. PROMISE students have swelled enrollment to the point where it may break the 1993 record of 23,000, and residence halls are now at 126 percent of capacity. WVU is leasing four buildings and plans to build space for another 1,000 students, but at least temporarily, 40 students will have to live in the Holiday Inn in Star City.

The PROMISE program is a key component of a new development plan called "A Vision Shared," which The Herald-Mail reported on this past April. Research done for the West Virginia Roundtable discovered an aging population, not enough of whom have high school or college degrees.

Getting more people educated will be the key to ensuring success for the state's development plan and projects like the proposed business park on the Berkeley/Jefferson county line.

Del. Vicki Douglas, a member of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said she'd like to see the park filled with high-tech industry.

That industry will come if the trained workers are here, so maybe it's time for the authority to visit the WVU campus and sell some of those eager freshmen on the idea that high-tech is the career of the future.

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