“It definitely made me feel seen”: Midlands Tech student reacts to free tuition program at SC technical colleges

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Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 6:51 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2021 at 10:19 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Through a new pilot program, up to 15,000 students at all 16 technical colleges across the state of South Carolina will be offered free tuition this upcoming spring semester.

The program, Workforce Scholarships for the Future, was announced by Governor Henry McMaster last month. It aims to set students up for success in many high-demand jobs and address the state’s labor shortage.

“Free tuition across the board at all 16 technical colleges in the state is a gamechanger,” Barrie Kirk, Midlands Technical College Provost, said.

Perla Rocha is a first-generation college student at Midlands Tech, and said when she first heard the news of this program, she and her family thought it was too good to be true.

For her, it’s about more than the money.

“It definitely made me feel seen,” Rocha said. “It kind of gives us the students the reassurance that our college wants us to succeed, and that it’s such a great feeling for us and we feel supported by the college for this opportunity.”

As a first-generation college student, Rocha said that support goes a long way for her and her family.

“I just always feel like I don’t want to be able to get my family in money troubles,” she said. “Since I am first-gen, my parents were like ‘Are you sure this is like a real thing?’ and I was like ‘Yea, I talked to the college and they said yes 100 percent real. And they’re not scamming us.’ and I was like ok, that’s awesome.”

The $17 million dollar investment, which is initially funded through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, covers tuition and fees for associate degrees or industry credentials.

The program seeks to train a highly-skilled workforce in fields like advanced manufacturing, information technology, engineering and health care.

Kirk said instead of being weighed down by the steep cost of college, students and families will now be free to pursue what matters most.

“Many of our students have families and some of them work and go to school at the same time and so this is going to lighten their load and allow them to really, really focus on their schoolwork and really their hopes and dreams,” she said.

Kirk said she’s hopeful that the program could be extended, but for now it’s only available for the spring 2022 semester.

To qualify, students will be required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average and complete one of the following: be employed, complete 100 hours of service to a nonprofit or take a financial literacy course offered at the institution.

If you’re interested in taking part in this program through Midlands Tech, Kirk said to act fast.

“It’s not too late, but time is running out,” she said.

The initial application deadline was December 17, but they’ve extended it and are encouraging folks to apply by the end of the year so that they’ll be prepared for the start of classes on January 10.

If you’re interested in applying, Midlands Tech encourages you to visit its website.

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