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Higher ed panel pushes schools to boost college prep

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While many West Virginia high schools are focusing more than ever on college preparedness, there's still a lot of work to be done, according to a report by the state Higher Education Policy Commission.

Of the more than 8,000 West Virginia high school graduates who enrolled in a public college last year, only 18 percent scored at or above the ACT benchmark scores for all subjects.

In addition, nearly 25 percent of the state's college freshman had to enroll in at least one developmental course in their first semester, while nearly 70 percent of freshman at in-state community colleges signed up for the beginner courses.

The HEPC and the state Council for Community and Technical College Education recently collaborated with the state Department of Education to create programs that help secondary students prepare for the academic rigor of college-level coursework. Those programs include implementing college-prep-type transition courses and a new data system that better tracks students' needs.

"Through increased cooperation with the Department of Education, both the two- and four-year postsecondary systems seek to strengthen the state's education pipeline, ultimately leading to seamless education pathways and increased student success at the postsecondary level," HEPC Chancellor Paul Hill told the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. "Although positive progress has been made to improve the student transition to West Virginia's public institutions, challenges remain."

Last year, more than 90 percent of students who had a high school GPA of 3.0 or above were still in college by their spring semester, as compared to about 70 percent who had a 2.9 or lower GPA.

Students who had at least a 3.0 high school GPA also proved to have a higher GPA in college.

Those students who did not have to take developmental courses in their first semester also showed lower dropout rates.

Also in the HEPC's report to the legislators, the state's financial aid and college graduation rates were discussed.

Eight of West Virginia's public four-year institutions have lower graduation rates than their peer institutions.

Three of the state's institutions, however, have a higher graduation rate when compared to similar schools in the region. Those institutions include Potomac State College of WVU, Shepherd University and West Liberty University.

Hill also reported that while the number of Promise scholarship recipients has declined in the past five years because of increases in qualification criteria and a declining number of high school seniors, the total dollars awarded has risen because the scholarship amount has been tied to the rising cost of tuition and fees.

The number of high school seniors offered the Promise has increased, in addition to the number of students who retained the scholarship throughout their college careers. In the past year, the proportion of Promise scholars in the lowest income groups has also increased.

The need-based Higher Education Grant also has shown a major increase. The grant program has increased more than 85 percent in the past five years, increasing award money by nearly $10 million. That's in part because of the elimination of a separate state application requirement, according to the HEPC report. Students can now accept the award with their initial Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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