Central Carolina Technical College will offer free tuition to qualifying college students from the four counties of Clarendon, Sumter, Lee and Kershaw starting with the high school graduating class of 2016.
The program will be the first of its kind in the state, said Tim Hardee, the college's president, at a press conference Thursday.
"This is the first time in South Carolina that students will have access to tuition-free college education," Hardee said. "In addition to benefiting students and their parents, this scholarship opportunity will also serve as an economic development tool, which will attract new industry as well as benefit our existing businesses and industry."
The scholarship initiative, called Central Carolina Scholars, will provide the first two years free to all qualifying students from the four counties it serves, Hardee said. The program is the result of a partnership between the college, all public and private high schools in all of the counties as well as local county and city councils, economic development boards and commissions and various corporate sponsors. Hardee said to make the program work, the college needed about $250,000 annually.
"Without the financial support of these partners, this program is just a good idea with no way to make it happen," he said. "These partners are investing in the future of our region."
A pilot initiative was introduced in 2011 in Clarendon, Kershaw and Lee counties and completed in 2015, Hardee said. Enrollment numbers doubled as a result, and the scholarship initiative proved successful for both the college and the community, he said.
"Our region of South Carolina is committed to joining the nationwide trend to provide a tuition-free higher-education option for local high school students, and a trained and ready workforce for economic development in our four-county service area," Hardee said.
Students eligible for the scholarship must be in the graduating classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 or 2019; graduate from a high school in Sumter, Kershaw, Clarendon or Lee counties; test into college level coursework through ACT, SAT or the college's placement exam scores; present a final high school transcript showing graduation date and minimum GPA of 2.0; begin taking classes in the summer or fall semester immediately after high school graduation; and complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each academic year.
The scholarship covers tuition only and will be provided for the duration of one program of study for as long as two years, Hardee said.
Cheryl Stanton, executive director of S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, represented Gov. Nikki Haley's office at the event. Stanton said there are 66,000 open jobs in South Carolina and at the same time more than 100,000 people who are unemployed.
"Part of what was so exciting to Gov. Haley and us in workforce development is that you took this concept we have been trying to encourage local and regional areas to do and did it," she said. "You have been able to provide free education for students who will potentially fill the 66,000 empty jobs in our state."