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Let's make college a family tradition

Another state-by-state ranking, another last-place ranking for West Virginia.

This time it's the percentage of state residents age 25 and over who have at least a bachelor's degree. That percentage in West Virginia is 15.3, lowest in the nation and well below the national average of 27.2 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

West Virginia's percentage of high school graduates is almost as low -- 49th out of the 50 states. Seventy-eight percent of West Virginia residents age 25 and over have at least a high school diploma, compared to the national average of 84 percent.

With these dismal numbers, it's hard to envision a prosperous future for the Mountain State. In a technology-driven economy, a well-trained work force is key to attracting the kind of businesses that provide good-paying, family-supporting jobs. And a strong, successful education system is high on the list of quality-of-life priorities that businesses consider when looking to start new ventures or expand existing ones. In the national (and international) competition for jobs, how can West Virginia boast either well-trained workers or a successful school system?

What can be done to boost the state's high school and college graduate numbers? Here's a suggestion: Set up a scholarship program specifically for deserving students from families in which no one has ever attended college. Higher education is, in part, a family tradition; a student is much more likely to attend college if his or her parent has. By offering such scholarships, the state would be helping to establish a college-going tradition in families without one.

Such a scholarship program wouldn't be cheap. Nor would it promise quick results. But it could, within a generation or two, substantially raise West Virginia's abysmal high school and college graduation numbers. And that would substantially improve West Virginia's chances for a more prosperous future.

Tim Langer