Institutions of higher education that thrive are likely to be the ones that find creative ways to accommodate the differing needs of their students. And using South Carolina’s lottery money to help students pay for college courses in the summer strikes us as an appropriate way to encourage that process.
South Carolina college students now receive $300 million a year in state lottery scholarships to help pay tuition during fall and spring semesters. But Gov. Nikki Haley has sent a formal request to the S.C. Commission on Higher Education asking that students also be allowed to use the money for summer classes.
For now, the University of South Carolina, the state’s largest university, is the only one to expand its summer session to a full semester. But other state schools also are weighing that option.
Lottery scholarships, which began a decade ago, have been limited to fall and spring semesters. That likely was done to keep the scholarships in synch with the availability of most federal college aid.
But this year USC began offering an extended summer session that attracted about 10,000 students. The university opened hundreds of dorm rooms and added staff and classes for the summer semester.
The extra semester allows students to graduate sooner, taking classes throughout the year without a break in the summer. This also gives students the option of taking internships during the fall and spring semesters.
But the summer classes also result in cost savings for the university. USC officials report that the summer semester allows the school to use more buildings year-round and eases crowding that has occurred as enrollment has risen by 6,000 in the past decade.
The summer proposal wouldn’t increase the amount of annual scholarship awards students can get – now up to $10,000 – or change the eligibility requirements. Students also still would receive a maximum of eight semesters of lottery aid no matter when they take classes.
The primary drawback to the plan would be the need to give the scholarship fund an extra infusion to pay the added cost of covering the first students who use the scholarship for summer classes. But that would be a one-time expense.
While Haley acknowledged that this would have a significant temporary impact on lottery funds, “the effects would ‘smooth out’ over time as students on the accelerated completion track exhaust their eligibility and graduate.”
Despite the one-time hit, this proposal makes good sense over the long run. It gives students more options and allows universities to utilize their campuses year-round rather than leaving most buildings idle during the summer.
It also could be good news economically for communities – including Rock Hill – that are home to colleges and universities. More students would remain in town during the summer, helping blunt the boom-or-bust effect on businesses that cater to students.
College credits are college credits, whether they are earned in the fall, spring or summer. We hope regulators will allow lottery scholarships to be used in the summer and that more schools will consider creating full summer semesters.