Struggling Denmark Technical College will offer some of its students free tuition next fall, hoping to boost enrollment numbers that have plummeted in recent years.
A new “Panther Promise” program will make the technical college free for 2017 high school graduates from Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties.
The college, S.C. Technical College System and Southern Carolina Regional Development Alliance all are pitching in for the program, estimated to cost $30,000.
The last-dollar program, which pays for tuition costs not covered by federal financial aid or other scholarships, will be offered only to 2017 graduates, and only for two years of school – though it could be extended.
Program organizers do not yet know how many students will take advantage.
The idea is not new. S.C. Senate Democrats earlier this year proposed spending $76 million a year to make technical college free for recent high school graduates across the state.
That proposal was strangled by budget constraints, but the Senate’s current version of the state budget includes a proviso that would establish a pilot program at Williamsburg Technical College in Kingstree.
Meanwhile, community and business leaders in Greenwood County have raised roughly $4.5 million for local high school graduates to attend Piedmont Technical College for free.
The program is sorely needed at Denmark Tech, S.C. Technical College System President Tim Hardee said, given enrollment there has slipped to 600 from 1,800. A Senate panel last month OK’d turning control of the college over to the Technical College System, which has pledged to modernize its courses and build partnerships with other nearby schools.
Historically, Hardee said, about 15 percent of high school graduates from Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties enroll immediately at Denmark Tech. The tuition program’s organizers hope to at least double that percentage.
“It’s a way to remove the financial barrier,” he said.