The S.C. Legislature should make it tougher to qualify for a college scholarship, the state’s schools superintendent recommended Wednesday.
If legislators do not change state law — which now says high school students with a “B” average are eligible for a scholarship — 11,500 more public school students could be eligible for scholarship money, state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman said Wednesday.
That is because last year the S.C. Department of Education changed the state’s K-12 grading system to a 10-point scale, making a “B” a score from 80 to 89, when it had been from 85 to 92. That move — making it easier to get a “B” — means more high school seniors will qualify for scholarship money.
Over four years, paying for those added scholarships could cost the state $88 million and, if no changes are made to the program, another $42 million a year thereafter.
On paper, the S.C. Education Lottery pays for college scholarships. But the lottery has had to rely on the state’s general fund to cover part of the cost — about $12 million a year now — because its profits have not been high enough to cover college money promised to students.
To offset the added costs, Spearman, R-Saluda, told state senators Wednesday that she recommends changing scholarship qualifications.
For example, to qualify for a $5,000-a-year Life scholarship now, a student must have a 3.0 grade-point average — or “B” — and meet other requirements. Spearman suggests changing the GPA requirement to a 3.5, or “B+.”
“You could leave it as it is, obviously,” Spearman said. “But you are going to have to come up with additional funding.”
The state’s Education Department decided to move to a 10-point grading scale, in part, because legislators wanted the change, Spearman said. “There was tremendous interest of members of the Legislature that we make this change.”
The change put S.C. high school students on a level playing field with their peers in the Southeast, she said.
“There was strong concern that students in South Carolina were being held to a higher GPA requirement versus other students that were competing for scholarships,” she said.
There was also concern from the NCAA, which regulates college athletics, that the former grading scale hurt S.C. student-athletes in qualifying for college admission.
State lawmakers now are the ones concerned.
They will be charged next year with finding more money, likely cutting state spending elsewhere, to keep up with the cost of additional scholarships. Voters approved the scholarships, which have been popular among suburban voters, in particular.
“It’s going to be up to me to go up to my colleagues and ask for more money out of the general fund to pay for this,” said state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee.
Cost of SC’s new grading scale
If S.C. lawmakers do not change qualifications for college scholarships, the state’s new grading scale means more high school students will be qualify for college aid, costing the state more money. Here’s how much:
▪ 11,500: The number of students who will be eligible for a Life Scholarship if the General Assembly does not change the scholarship’s qualifications
▪ $88 million: The amount over four years it will cost the state if changes are not made to scholarship qualifications
▪ $42 million: The annual amount, after the four-year phase-in period, it will cost the state if changes are not made to scholarship qualifications
SOURCE: S.C. Department of Education