The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and Council for Community and Technical College Education voted Friday to provide students with greater flexibilities in accessing and renewing state financial aid programs amid the threat of COVID-19 in West Virginia, including suspending GPA requirements to renew the PROMISE scholarship. 

The move came as higher education institutions across the state have continued adjusting methods for course delivery for the remainder of the semester in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. 

“Our institutions are making proactive and smart changes in the way they deliver instruction to protect West Virginia’s students, campus communities, and citizens,” said Sarah Armstrong Tucker, interim chancellor of the commission and chancellor of the West Virginia Community and Technical College System. “As students adjust to these changes, we want to make sure they can continue accessing the financial aid they need to persist in pursuing their degrees. This is an unprecedented time for higher education, and our students’ health and safety remain our highest priority.” 

Tucker added at the same time, officials are very focused on what comes next and ensuring students aren’t negatively affected by the circumstances.

According to a release sent out from the commission, operational, academic and calendar changes at institutions could limit the ability of students to meet GPA requirements needed to continue receiving state financial aid. To ensure students aren’t adversely impacted, the commission has approved suspending the GPA requirements to renew the PROMISE Scholarship, Higher Education Grant, Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship, and Engineering, Science & Technology Scholarship from 2019-20 to 2020-21.

The council also made changes Friday allowing students to continue receiving the West Virginia Invests Grant, the state’s new last-dollar-in grant program for students pursuing associate degrees. More specifically, the council voted to suspend the community service requirement for spring 2020 awards and GPA requirements to renew the grant for the 2020-21 academic year.  

“The state’s higher education systems are also working to address the financial aid needs and concerns of high school seniors. As part of today’s meeting, the Commission extended the application deadline for the Higher Education Grant, the state’s need-based financial aid program, from April 15, 2020 to May 15, 2020,” the release stated.

In addition, Tucker added she has been in contact with high school principals across the state regarding school closures and postponement of the SAT and ACT tests in March and April, and how this might affect PROMISE Scholarship applicants.

“West Virginia’s high school seniors have worked very hard to qualify for PROMISE, and we want to make sure they’re able to continue pursuing their college dreams,” she said. “At this time, students can still qualify for PROMISE by taking the June SAT and the June and July ACT. If those tests are postponed or canceled, we will act promptly to reevaluate our statewide qualification deadlines.”

A summary of ongoing changes being made across West Virginia’s college campuses to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can be found at http://www.wvhepc.edu/coronavirus/.

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jhatfieldRH

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