This fall, more than 100 new Davis & Elkins College Highlands Scholars will benefit from more than $5.4 million awarded through the college's innovative program that allows area students to attend a private school at nearly the cost of West Virginia public colleges and universities.
Initiated with the start of the 2008-2009 academic year, the Highlands Scholars program offers a significant tuition discount to full-time freshman students attending Davis & Elkins College from the seven counties surrounding the campus - Randolph, Barbour, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Tucker, Upshur and Webster. The first class who entered D&E as Highlands Scholars received its diplomas in May.
Those who qualify receive $14,000 if choosing to live on campus or $11,000 if choosing to commute. For four years of attendance, the scholarships total $56,000 for students living on campus or $44,000 for those who commute.
"Kids can't really believe it when they get $56,000 for four years (of college)," said D&E Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Wilson. "But we say, 'we're not giving you this money. We're investing in your future.' It helps them. It helps the community, and it helps their families."
This approach to funding higher education for students is unique, Wilson said. That commitment to providing affordable education has caught the attention of national media and one of the nation's leading philanthropists.
In 2010, Doris Buffett offered to underwrite up to $300,000 in scholarships to students in the Highlands Scholar region. Donations began pouring in from across the globe to help meet the "Buffett Challenge." In the end, the goal was surpassed.
Since then, enrollment of students in the Highlands Scholar region has increased rapidly. Scholarship awards for the 2012-2013 academic year totalled more than $3.5 million.
Applying for a Highlands Scholarship is easy. There are no interviews and no long, daunting forms. Instead, D&E admission counselors visit schools to present what the program has to offer and give details of qualifications. Students must earn at least a 2.5 GPA upon high school graduation.
"We try to remove all the hurdles," Wilson said. "We just ask, 'how can we help you?'"
That approach has worked. Since its inception, the program has continued to grow from just eight students in 2008 to 287 enrolled in the 2012-2013 academic year.
The largest percentage of Highlands Scholars comes from Elkins High School, Wilson said.
"The Highlands Scholarship has made a huge difference," Judy Kittle, a guidance counselor at EHS, said. "Before it started, a lot of kids couldn't afford to go to D&E. The kids are lucky to have this scholarship because D&E is such a great school."
Wilson pointed out the affordability of larger, state colleges was previously a deciding factor for students and their parents. However, those institutions weren't necessarily where students from small high schools were most comfortable.
"These kids are used to a small environment," Wilson said. "If they go to a bigger school, sometimes they're overwhelmed. In fact, a lot of kids transfer back from WVU, and we honor the scholarship for up to one year after they've been out of high school. So they could get the Highlands Scholarship for three years."
In 2012, nearly half of the graduating class at Tygarts Valley High School who planned to attend college received Highlands Scholarships.
"The Highlands Scholarship has been a tremendous opportunity for our students," said Steve Wamsley, principal at Tygarts Valley Middle/High School. "Many of them have very few experiences outside of our area that would make them feel comfortable going a long distance from home.
"We also have a large percentage of students who are overwhelmed by any financial hurdle that they feel is placed before them," Wamsley added. "For those two reasons, the Highlands Scholarship has been incredibly helpful to us. Our students now not only feel they can attend college, but are able to stay on campus and realize the entire college experience. Thank you, Davis & Elkins College."
Students agreed that the Highlands Scholarship program has made a difference in their access to a high quality education close to home at an affordable price.
"If it hadn't been for the Highlands Scholarship, I wouldn't have been able to come here," said Maggie Fry, a Marketing major from Elkins. "It's a fun school, and you get a good education. Plus, you won't be in debt when you graduate."
Ethan White, from Buckhannon, agreed, saying his hope to come to D&E only became a reality with the scholarship.
"I had always wanted to go to a smaller school close to home," he said. "I think it's a great thing for our area kids because it brings the cost down, and for a lot of kids that's a big deal. If they can get a state school cost at a private school, it's kind of a no-brainer."
Phylicia Hudok, a junior chemistry major from Huttonsville, said the educational experience at D&E has proved invaluable.
"I think without the Highlands Scholarship I would not be here. I would not know how amazing a higher education is because I would have been at some state college," Hudok said.
While the cost savings is a major advantage for students, Fry and White, both D&E athletes, say being close to home offers yet another benefit.
"I'm an only child, so my parents and I are really close," said White, who plays center on the Senator men's basketball team. "My family comes to all the home games and travels to some of the away games. It's kind of nice to have that support of my mom and dad around."
Fry, a midfielder on the women's soccer team, said she can always count her family members and friends from the community among the fan base at matches.
Although Fry, White and Hudok's families live within a few miles of the college, the students elected to live on campus. That's a decision they all agree has enriched their lives.
"Just the feeling from everybody being there and saying 'hi' is an experience I don't think you can get anywhere else - it's a closeness," Hudok said.
That sense of community doesn't have to end after graduation. Wilson points out that D&E Director of Career Management Lisa Reed helps students get jobs in their hometowns or somewhere nearby.
"A lot of them want to work locally," Wilson said. "That builds the local alumni base and those people tend to come to more [campus] events, which fosters that family attitude."
Recent high school graduates awarded the Highlands Scholarship include: Elkins High School Jacob Antoline, Celina Arbogast, Whitley Bodkin, Abagail Bodkins, Justin Carr, Kayla Carr, Chelsea Channell, Jonathan Gainer, Natalie Green, Katelyn Harris, Kristina Jack, Savannah Mace, Melissa Neal, Mark Parrack, Kevin Pennington, Emily Richards, Courtney Rosenberger, Kaylee Rosencrance, Jacob Schoonover, Jessica Scott, Justin Shiflet, Summer Thompson, Hayley Tyre and Jacob Wyatt; Pickens School Olivia Hudok; Tygarts Valley High School Hunter Tanner, Alexis Vandevender, Shaunna Taylor, Jordan Fincham, Tori Elbon, Jessica Anderson, Shanda Howell, Melissa Von Bruton, Dillon Shrader, Daniel Sayre, Jacob Currence, Justin Anderson, Kasey Meadows, Brandon Pritt and Sean Kerns; Harman High School Lalya Teter, Mackala Teter, Tashia Lambert, Alex Armentrout, Chloe O'Neill, Marie Johnston and Trackie Cooper; Tucker County High School Nick Akins, Danielle Bible, Ashley Cassidy, Amber Evans, Lydia Rhodes, Chelsea Waugaman and Rachel White; Buckhannon-Upshur High School Erika Alfred, Shenandoah Blume, Reba Cutright, Shelby Carr, Nicholas Burch, Heaven Dove, Haley Ware, Shiana Sanders, Erika Ridgway, Marlene Ridgway, Danielle Perry, Clarissa Linger, Jacob Hinzman and Tabitha Howard; Webster County High School Megan Hall, Shawn Anderson, Hunter Given, Aerial Jarvis, Misty Rule and Lance Stout; Pendleton County High School Sabrina Mallow, Melissa Stump, Justin Guy and Fannie Kline; Philip Barbour High School Cristin Farley, Brodon Carpenter, Carlise Ayers, Samantha Davis, Chloe McVicker, Jackie Rebrook, Shelbi Wilson, Gerald Furby, Douglas Smith, Chance Price, Nicholas Novak, Benjamin Hart, Morgan Robinson, Breanna Rinko and Megan Pingley; and Pocahontas County High School Cayla Brown, Cassandra Chastain, Julia Chastain, Sabrina Currence, Ashley Peacock, Brittany Phillips and Heather Snead.
For more information on the Highlands Scholarship, call the D&E Office of Financial Planning at 304-637-1990. Apply online at www.dewv.edu/admission.