By EARL RAY TOMBLIN
CHARLESTON -- Ten years ago, West Virginia made a promise to its young people: if you work hard, earn good grades, and fully commit to pursuing a college education in our great state, we will help you pay for a college education.
To fulfill that commitment to our students, we launched the PROMISE Scholarship Program -- a visionary initiative that has helped more than 32,000 West Virginians pursue the dream of earning a college degree.
During my time as Senate President, I had the great fortune of working with former Governor Bob Wise and former State Senator Lloyd Jackson, II to draft and approve legislation creating the PROMISE Scholarship and later to fund its implementation using revenue from the state's video lottery machines. Their forward-thinking leadership opened doors of opportunity for generations of students across West Virginia and positioned our state as a national leader in supporting the educational attainment of our young people.
As we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the PROMISE Scholarship Program, it is important to recognize the achievements of our students and consider the valuable outcomes this program has yielded for West Virginia.
PROMISE Scholars come from every county in the state, and over the past decade more than $315 million has been invested in their success. In 2011, more than 20 percent of high school seniors in West Virginia met all criteria to receive the PROMISE Scholarship.
Since the academic requirements were increased in 2007, more students have steadily met these expectations indicating that our students are capable and ready to compete in the demanding 21st century workforce and today's global economy.
The State of West Virginia has experienced a significant return on our investment. Research shows that receiving the PROMISE Scholarship increases students' likelihood of completing higher education, because the program requires students to maintain higher grades and take rigorous course loads during college.
Thus, PROMISE is a valuable tool to ensuring that our students not only attend college, but also graduate on-time and are prepared to enter our workforce.
These students are also committed to giving back to our great state. A recent survey of PROMISE Scholars indicated that 90 percent volunteer in their communities, averaging 43 hours of unpaid service per year, per student. In investing in our young people, we are ensuring that they, in turn, become invested in the future success of our Great State.
But the impact this program has made for our students is best understood through their own words. As one graduate, Megan Jude of Huntington, told us, "The PROMISE Scholarship provided me with the opportunity to get a great education without being burdened financially.
The experiences and connections I made through my education gave me the ability to stay in West Virginia and help other students reach their goals in higher education. My success today would not have been possible without the PROMISE Scholarship Program."
I wish a heartfelt "congratulations" to our first decade of PROMISE Scholars. I am inspired by all they have already accomplished and confident they will lead West Virginia to a bright and promising future.
Tomblin is West Virginia's governor.