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PROMISE scholarships are awarded to high school graduates in West Virginia who complete school with at least a 3.0 grade point average in the core and overall coursework as well as a certain score on the ACT or SAT test. Championed by Governor Bob Wise, the scholarships are modeled after similar programs in Georgia and elsewhere. PROMISE stands for Providing Real Opportunities for Maximizing Instate Student Excellence.

Approved by the legislature in 1999 but not funded until 2001, the scholarships were first awarded in 2002. The scholarships provide full tuition for a student to attend a state college or university or an equivalent scholarship to attend an in-state private college. The maximum amount was $4,750 in 2010.

The scholarship is not based on family income, the college’s resources, or any factors other than academic eligibility. In addition to a 3.0 grade point average, a student initially had to achieve a composite ACT score of at least 21 or a combined SAT score of 1,000. In 2003, a stipulation was added that required a minimum score of 19 in each subject area of the ACT, or at least a 470 on the verbal section and a 460 on the math section in the SAT. In 2004, the standards again rose. To retain the free tuition from year to year, students must maintain a 2.75 grade point average as college freshmen and 3.0 average as sophomores.

The scholarship program is funded by lottery and video lottery revenues and any other legislative appropriation. The cost increased from $5.5 million appropriated in the 2001 fiscal year to $39 million in 2005. In 2002, 3,843 students used the award. The number increased in 2003 to 4,392, and decreased in 2004 to about 4,025. Critics of the program expressed fears that costs would expand beyond control, suggesting that it might be necessary to cap the awards or continue to raise the standards. About 25 percent of high school students receive PROMISE scholarships.

By 2009, PROMISE Scholarships cost the state more than $42 million per year for more than 9,000 student recipients. In an effort to contain costs and to limit the number of awards, the ACT and SAT requirements were raised. By 2010, students had to have an ACT composite of 22 with a minimum sub-score of 20 in math, English, science and reading, or a combined SAT of 1020 with a minimum of 490 in critical reading and 480 in math. Requirements for college students to renew the scholarship increased as well. Students must attempt and complete 30 credit hours in a 12-month period to retain the scholarship. By the late 2010s, these eligibility requirements and a declining state population had reduced the number of scholarships to about 1,600 per year.

To improve participation, in 2022-23, the scholarship amount was raised to $5,000 per year—the first increase since 2009—and some requirements were reduced. High school students must still achieve a B (3.0) average. However, the ACT minimum requirements were set at a 21 composite score with at least a 19 on the English, reading, science, and math components. SAT minimum requirements were set at a minimum 1080 composite score with a 510 on math and in reading and writing. For the 2023-24 school year, the eligible amount was increased to $5,200. State officials anticipated these changes could double PROMISE participation.

Once in college, students must maintain a 2.75 GPA in year one and 3.0 GPA in subsequent years to retain their scholarships. However, Higher Education Policy Commission officials are re-examining these requirements because many students are reportedly avoiding taking more difficult STEM-related courses to keep their scholarships.

Last Revised on February 09, 2024

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Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "PROMISE Scholarships." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 09 February 2024. Web. 16 April 2024.


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