State tobacco commission to provide college scholarship funds
ABINGDON -- For the second consecutive year, the state's tobacco commission will provide college scholarship funds to the region's tobacco-producing families.
This year, the scholarship fund for Southwest Virginia has quadrupled to $1 million.
"Our goal is to get people in school," said Rachel Fowlkes, executive director of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center.
The scholarship money not only is beneficial to students but is an important tool in addressing the need to improve the region's quality of life and economy, she said.
According to the 2000 census, 30 percent of Virginians 25 and older statewide have at least a bachelor's degree, but those figures are lower in this region. In Bristol, it's 17 percent and in Dickenson County, 6.7 percent.
The Higher Education Center is responsible for administering the scholarship program, which provides grants of up to $1,000 to tobacco producers, quota holders and workers as well as their spouses, dependent children and grandchildren.
The scholarship money may be applied to tuition at any four-year college or graduate school in Virginia.
The scholarships may be used by both full-time and part-time students.
"We especially wanted to provide financial assistance for part-time students who are managing jobs, families and other responsibilities and do not qualify for traditional grants and loans," said state Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, a member of the tobacco commission.
Last year, 450 people took advantage of the tuition assistance, and more than 175 already have applied for aid this year.
The application deadline is July 26.
The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission provides educational funding in both Southside and Southwest Virginia -- the two tobacco-producing regions of the state.
The 31-member commission, established by the General Assembly in 1999, is responsible for spending half of the state's $4 billion share of a multistate tobacco settlement by providing payments to farmers and funding for economic development projects in tobacco-producing communities.
The state's share, to be paid out over 25 years, is part of the $206 billion the country's big tobacco companies agreed to pay to settle a lawsuit filed by a number of states that sued to recoup the costs of treating sick tobacco users.
This year, scholarship recipients will be required to participate in a half-day career workshop.
"We included this requirement so that our youth in particular will become familiar with career trends in the region and return after graduation to work and raise their families," said state Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Lebanon.
For more information, call Angela McNutt at (276) 469-4064 or call (800) 792-3683, extension 4064.