MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the middle of a recession, West Virginia kick started a scholarship program that has now been in place for 15 years.

Bob Wise was governor then and the state wasn’t just falling behind in national college attendance rates, it was dead last.

It was 2001 and lacking revenue led to a controversial decision to bring in funding for higher education.

“There wasn’t any new money and if we were going to find it, it was going to be by restricting the gray machines that were proliferating everywhere,” Wise recalled. “We cut them down from (estimates of) 30,000 or 40,000 to less than 9,000. They were all paying taxes, they were all regulated.”

The former WV congressman and current president of the nonprofit organization Alliance for Excellent Education was in Morgantown Tuesday for a celebration with WVU administrators and students praising the Promise Scholarship program still in place a decade and a half later.

“In the last census we had moved to 36 in the nation in terms of students entering college. So, I think we have begun to reverse a trend,” Wise said.

Some 9,800 West Virginians are current recipients of a Promise Scholarship which now caps at $4,750 per year to be used at a state school.

Stephen Scott is originally from Jefferson County. He said his undergraduate degree at WVU was only possible through scholarships.

“It’s really been a promise that the state has given to me that they believe in me, that they want me to succeed and that I’m able to really reach for the stars.” Scott is a first year law school student at WVU.

Exercise physiology junior Savannah Lusk explained how the scholarship program has made a difference from one generation to the next.

“Especially when my dad was back in high school, it was go to high school and then get a job. But, with the Promise Scholarship it gives students who may have not even thought about going to college to get an incentive to get a higher education and give them help with that.”

Two years ago, a WVU College of Business and Economic study showed Promise Scholars stick around the Mountain State after graduation.

“Forty-Eight percent overall of college graduates after over ten years are still in the state working, but they note Promise Scholars are staying at a higher percent,” shared Wise.

Eligible students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average. For the 2016-2017 award year, recipients must have earned a 22 composite score on the ACT with a minimum 20 in English, math, science and reading.

“I was able to graduate college debt free which is incredibly important. But, not only that, I had the freedom in college to engage much more fully in my academics and my extracurriculars because I wasn’t having to work part time jobs,” noted Gilmer County native and Shepherd University Promise Scholarship graduate Cate Johnson.

Although the number varies from institution to institution, WVU reports 50 percent of freshman have earned a Promise Scholarship.

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