Gov. Nikki Haley has asked college regulators to look at allowing S.C. students to use $300 million in state lottery scholarships as financial aid for summer classes.
The University of South Carolina, the state’s largest college, expanded its summer session this year to become a third full semester. Other state schools are weighing specialized summer offerings.
An extra semester allows students to graduate sooner, and take internships during the fall and spring semesters, USC officials said.
While scholarship amounts won’t increase, the state would need to give the lottery program more money at first to accommodate students wanting to use financial aid over a consecutive three semesters.
After a letter from Haley, the S.C. Commission on Higher Education agreed to form a group, including its staff and college representatives, to study the summer lottery scholarship proposal, said Julie Carullo, the commission’s government affairs director.
Lottery aid, which started a decade ago, has been limited to fall and spring semesters. That likely was done to mimic the availability of most federal college financial assistance, Carullo said.
Haley is pushing for the change to help make college more affordable and reward schools trying to find ways to cut costs, the first-term Republican governor from Lexington said in a Sept. 4 letter to commission chairman John Finan.
“Our colleges and universities will have to adapt to rising health-care and construction costs by changing the way they do business,” Haley wrote. “Similarly, we at the state level have an obligation to respond to these forces by creating an environment in which our institutions have the ability to tailor their offerings.”
Haley asked for a report by Dec. 1 so its findings could be included in the state’s 2014-15 budget plans.
“I believe this proposal has merit,” she said.
Lottery scholarships are funded with more than $200 million in profits from lottery ticket sales as well as more than $100 million from the state’s general revenue fund, said Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Richland, who also is chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
The summer proposal would not increase the amount of annual awards that students can get — now up to $10,000 — or change the eligibility requirements. Also unchanged would be the maximum of eight semesters of lottery aid.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Courson said of the summer scholarships.
But some lawmakers might object because the state will need to give the scholarship fund an extra infusion to cover the first students who use the money for summer classes, Courson said.
The amount needed is unknown. That is one of issues the commission’s study group will examine along with potential enrollment changes.
Haley acknowledged the “significant one-time impact on lottery funds” in her letter but said “the effects would ‘smooth out’ over time as students on the accelerated completion track exhaust their eligibility and graduate.”
About 10,000 students attended the first extended summer session at USC — slightly more than a year earlier, said Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, dean of the school’s College of Arts and Sciences.
USC opened hundreds of dorm rooms and added staff and classes for the summer semester. A set of business courses for non-business majors was among the most popular offerings.
USC says the summer semester allows it to use more buildings year-round and eases crowding, resulting as enrollment has risen by 6,000 students in the past decade.
“This is something that is very important to us,” Fitzpatrick said.
Clemson University has not announced any immediate plans for a third semester. But South Carolina’s second-biggest college is weighing summer-only courses and certificate coursework, a spokeswoman said.