Central Carolina Technical College President Michael Mikota said the biggest challenge facing South Carolina, the nation and the world today is growing and retaining a talented workforce.
In that effort, Mikota - on behalf of CCTC - announced …
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In that effort, Mikota - on behalf of CCTC - announced Thursday from the Health Sciences Center in downtown Sumter that the school is continuing for another five years a partnership with area cities and counties to offer two years of free tuition for high school graduates who test ready for college.
The program is called Central Carolina Scholars and is open to public- and private-school graduates in the upcoming Classes of 2020-24 in the college's four-county region consisting of Sumter, Clarendon, Lee and Kershaw.
All six school districts in the counties have signed onto the agreement, Mikota said.
The scholarship allows high school graduates to finish with a two-year associate degree from CCTC directly enter the workforce or transfer to a four-year college/university and complete a bachelor's degree with two years of schooling behind them, tuition-free.
That can help tremendously in today's world where many college students graduate with high levels of debt to pay off, according to Mikota.
The scholarship can be used for tuition only and does not cover fees, books or supplies, the college said, though other scholarships exist to pay for those items.
A total of 1,117 students participated in the program in its first five years, Mikota said, and he hopes that number will grow in the next five years.
"To have the opportunity to get the first two years of college with free tuition is tremendous, and it's an opportunity you can't underestimate," he said.
Of that initial five-year pool of scholars, 68% of them have graduated and moved into jobs or gone on to further their education.
Kristen Jackson, 22, an engineering associate in the City of Sumter Engineering Department, is one of those "success stories."
A 2016 graduate of Lugoff-Elgin High School in neighboring Kershaw County, Jackson said she and her parents couldn't afford to send her off to college. Luckily, she was able to take advantage of the scholars' program at CCTC.
Two years later, she graduated from the college with an associate degree in engineering design technology. In July 2018, she became the youngest member of the city's engineering department. Along the way, Jackson said she had "unlimited opportunities" as far as internships and awards.
Now, she's married and recently bought a new car and a house.
"I can't be more thankful for what [Central Carolina] Scholars allowed me to do in my time here," Jackson said. "I walked out of college with absolutely no debt and nothing to owe."
She said she was glad when she first heard the program was extended for another five years.
"I am excited for the college, the school districts and also for the students themselves," she said. "Now, they have the same great opportunity to make something of themselves - to go and get an education and then go into the workforce and not have to worry about paying."
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