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Income cap for PROMISE?

April 01, 2003

With another 4,000 students due to qualify for West Virginia's PROMISE scholarship program, should the state consider an income cap on recipients? Not without collecting more data, so state lawmakers can decide whether enforcing a cap would cost more than it would save.

The PROMISE program, a priority for Gov. Bob Wise, provides a full ride to any public state college or private institution in the state to high school seniors with 3.0 grade point averages and scores of at least 21 on the ACT college placement test.

Once in school, students must maintain good grades to keep getting awards of up to $2,000 per year. Funding the program at that amount costs the state about $7 million a year now, but the amount of money available is expected to grow to $27 million a year by 2004.

Has the program worked? Statistics kept on the first 3,488 recipients indicate that it has. Of that group, only 1.5 percent - 54 students - have lost it. Robert Morgenstern told the Associated Press that most of those either quit college, took a leave of absence, or transferred to an out-of-state school.

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PROMISE is funded in large part from the receipts of video poker legalized early in Gov. Wise's term. As noted, those receipts are expected to grow, but like every other state, West Virginia is trying hard to keep its budget in balance and every dollar saved counts.

But does the need to be frugal mean the state should restrict PROMISE to those students whose families couldn't otherwise afford to send them to college? Del. Ray Canterbury, R-Greenbrier, thinks so, but although his bill passed the house, it didn't clear the senate before the session's end.

Before the next session, we recommend that the state collect income information on current recipients, then calculate how many would be ineligible under Canterbury's bill, which would exclude most whose families made $100,000 or more.

If there's only a small fraction affected, it's probably not worth the bother. New restrictions might also deter those families who can afford to invest in the state in other ways from doing so.

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