HEPC approves measure to double state needs-grant for eligible students

SOUTH CHARLESTON — The state Higher Education Policy Commission approved a doubling of the maximum award for the West Virginia Higher Education Grant at the commission’s meeting Friday held in South Charleston.

The maximum award for the needs-based grant goes from $3,400 to $6,800.

State Higher Education Chancellor Dr. Sarah Armstrong Tucker said the increase was made possible by Gov. Jim Justice proposing and the legislature allocating an additional $40 million to the program in last month’s special session because of the failed rollout of the changes to the free federal finance aid form, the FAFSA.

Lawmakers approved a total of $83 million to help higher education get through the FAFSA mess during the next year.

“It’s a huge investment on the part of the governor and we’re incredibly grateful for it,” Tucker said.

The HEPC approved a resolution Friday thanking the governor and the legislature.

State law requires a completed FAFSA before students can receive the needs-based Higher Education Grant or the merit-based Promise Scholarship. A Justice issued state of emergency allows for the FAFSA to be skipped for one year.

Tucker said there are approximately 7,000 existing students who would qualify for those two programs.

“I didn’t think that it was right for us to sit on that higher ed grant money or on the Promise money and not award students when something that was completely out of control was prohibiting from getting the money,” Tucker said Friday.

HEPC Senior Director of Financial Aid Brian Weingart said through the state of emergency the state will be able to award the Higher Education Grant based off the 2023-24 FAFSA, the 2024-25 FAFSA or if the student qualifies for any federal means-tested programs through the state.

The HEPC previously approved an extension of the deadline to apply for the Higher Education Grant from April 15 to July 1.

Tucker said the HEPC will work on a marketing campaign to let students know the award has been doubled. She said individual colleges and universities are also getting the word out.

“We emailed all the guidance counselors in the state, we have a text messaging campaign we do with high school seniors, those who have just graduated, to let them know this award has been doubled,” Tucker said. “Our hope is that what we’ll see over the next couple of months is that our students who have applied but haven’t committed now start committing because they understand they can now afford college.” Tucker agreed the summer makes it more challenging to get the word out.

“All of this is more challenging because the school year is out, there’s no
question about that, but we still have ways to get information to our students and we’re going to use every single one of them that we can,” Tucker said.

The $83 million approved for higher education by the legislature includes the $40 million for the grant program, $32 million to allow colleges and universities to backfill what they’ve spent on their share or the increase in PEIA premiums and $11 million for individual student grants up to $2,000 for those students who don’t qualify for Promise or the Higher Education Grant but still face financial challenges.