S.C. Senate Democrats want to make technical college free for residents who graduate from high school.
Seventeen Democratic senators propose spending $76 million a year to offer free tuition, vouchers for fees and other financial help to students at the state’s 16 technical colleges.
But the Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee says the proposed “S.C. Promise Scholarship Program” is unlikely to get full, if any, funding from lawmakers this year, citing constraints on the state’s $8 billion general fund budget.
Still, Senate Democrats are pitching the idea – backed by the S.C. Technical College System – as an investment in the state’s future. South Carolina needs an educated workforce to attract economic development, they say, adding college costs are rising.
“We need to step up to the plate ... to meet the needs of employers and families, who cannot afford to send their kids to get a technical school education,” said state Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville.
Senate Education Committee chairman John Courson, R-Richland, said technical schools offer the state “one of the best bangs for its buck in the higher education system.”
But the $522 million in added revenue in the state’s budget for next year “is pretty much gobbled up” by other pressing needs, he said.
Under the proposal, the scholarships would pick up where other sources of financial aid and scholarships – including merit-based lottery scholarships – leave off. The program also would provide a stipend for books, transportation and other expenses for students from poor families.
The scholarships would be available only to recent — within six years — high school graduates.
“We don’t think the lack of funds should prevent a student from achieving their goals in life,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.
If enough money is not available this year, lawmakers could try a pilot program, Hutto said.