Governor touts success of technical college scholarship program, helping 32K-plus students

Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 10:38 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WIS) - More than two years ago, Gov. Henry McMaster allocated a portion of COVID relief money from the federal government toward training South Carolinians for high-demand jobs.

On Wednesday, the governor announced more than 32,000 South Carolinians have since earned an industry credential through this program.

It comes as South Carolina is preparing for around 14,000 jobs to open across the state in the coming years, with technical colleges serving as the training grounds for many of the workers who will fill those positions.

“The reason these business leaders from around the world are coming here is because of the people. We’ve got the raw asset. We have the diamond in the rough. All we have to do is polish it, and the way to polish it is with education,” McMaster said at an event Wednesday at Trident Technical College’s Thornley Campus in North Charleston.

For 32,426 South Carolinians in just over the last two years, that has come through the state’s Workforce Scholarships for the Future program, according to the governor’s office.

“We are bursting at the seams because students need what we have,” Trident Tech President Mary Thornley said.

Led by McMaster, the state has put more than $55 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funds from federal COVID relief packages toward this initiative.

The governor had sole discretion over how to spend GEER dollars, though his choice had to support public elementary and secondary education, institutions of higher education, or other education-related entities.

“This scholarship means everything. It is the reason why I am here today,” Trident Tech student Bobbie Reed said Wednesday.

Reed is currently enrolled in classes for nursing.

To receive money through the Workforce Scholarships for the Future program, students must pursue a credential or associate degree at one of the state’s 16 technical colleges in a high-demand field, like manufacturing, education, or healthcare.

“To prepare them for what I call ‘4-H jobs,’” South Carolina Technical College System President Tim Hardee said. “4-H is high pay, high tech, high demand, and high mobility.”

They also have to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, as well as be employed, take a financial literacy course, or volunteer 100 hours at a nonprofit or public-service organization.

In return, students receive up to $5,000 a year for tuition and related costs.

Hardee said South Carolina technical college graduates have a 91% job placement rate in the field in which they are trained.

“I just cannot imagine another place — I haven’t read about it, I haven’t seen it, and I don’t know anyone else who has seen a better functioning idea and commitment than that we have to this technical college system in South Carolina,” McMaster said. “It is the key part right now of our higher education, and it is the answer to so many questions.”

About $44 million of the $55 million in GEER funding allocated to this scholarship program has been spent.

The remaining $11 million must be spent by Sept. 30, 2024, or else it will be returned to the federal government. However, the governor’s office said the $44 million expended total does not include scholarships awarded for the fall 2023 semester, adding it is confident the full allocation will be exhausted within the next year.

Once that money is gone, the scholarship initiative will remain, however, through the South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarship (SC WINS) program, which is substantively the same as the Workforce Scholarships for the Future program and was established by the state legislature in 2022.

The General Assembly allocated nearly $100 million in the current state budget for the SC WINS program. That money will kick in to cover scholarship costs once all the federal dollars have been spent.

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