West Virginia University in Morgantown is set to offer next semester a new benefit believed to retain students, and if the program works, it could be adopted at WVU Tech in Beckley. 

The implementation of "completion grants" is set to help fill the gap between checkbooks and commencement, and WVU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed said school officials continue to see the unmet financial need which continues to be a barrier of completion for some WVU students. 

“Nationally, 15 percent of students who complete three-fourths of the credit hours required for graduation leave their institution without earning their degree,” Reed told the WVU Board of Governors during its regular meeting last week, citing a program sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and Urban Serving Universities that partnered with nine public universities to fill an unmet gap resulting in more than 90 percent of recipients completing their degrees.

“Next semester, we will begin implementing a pilot of our own completion grants program, which will serve students in good academic standing who are close to finishing their degrees but have exhausted nearly all other forms of financial aid," Reed said. 

Estimates are that as many as 150 students fit the profile, Reed said, with about 50 to 60 only about $3,000 short of what they need to finish their degrees. Eligible students will not need to apply, as the Office of Student Financial Support and Services will automatically provide up to $1,500 to those who qualify, she added.

“We believe this program will more than pay for itself because of the tuition dollars saved,” Reed said. “It’s estimated for every dollar we spend, we will retain four times that amount. It’s the right thing to do and the smart thing to do." 

The completion grants are part of a continuing top priority within the provost’s office to improve retention, she said, adding that first-generation students – those with neither parent nor guardian having earned a four-year college degree – make up at least 22 percent of WVU’s total student population and are at higher risk of leaving the school.

WVU Tech Campus President Carolyn Long added although the new retention strategies are a pilot program for Morgantown, if they are successful, they could be offered all across the system.  

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

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