Georgia's move to raise the eligibility standards for its lottery-funded college scholarships and limit the amount paid out has caught the attention of key S.C. lawmakers, who say similar cutbacks eventually will need to be made here.
The cutbacks won't come this year, key legislators say.
But, in the next two or three years, they expect to either toughen the qualifications to earn a scholarship or cap the size of those grants.
Over the past five years, an increasing number of S.C. students have met the eligibility standards for lottery scholarships. But lottery profits have not kept pace with the cost of meeting those scholarship obligations.
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As a result, an increasing amount of money from the state's general fund has been needed to ensure that students who qualified for those scholarships got them.
"As some point, we're going to have to address the lottery scholarships, either in capping the amount or raising the eligibility standards," said state Rep. Dan Cooper, R-Anderson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
The gap between what the S.C. lottery takes in and the cost of paying for scholarships is not as large in South Carolina as it is in Georgia, which has perhaps the most generous lottery-funded scholarship program in the country.
Georgia students who maintain 3.0 GPAs receive scholarships that cover all tuition and mandatory fee costs at any public college or university in Georgia as well as $300 a year to help pay for textbooks.
South Carolina's scholarship programs either generally cover less than the full cost of tuition or have higher eligibility standards.
A South Carolina high school graduate with a 3.0 GPA, for example, would be eligible for a HOPE scholarship that would pay up to $2,800 a year.
To get a $5,000-a-year LIFE scholarship, that S.C. graduate must meet two of three criteria: 3.0 GPA, 1,100 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test, graduate in the top 30 percent of his or her class.
To qualify for the state's largest lottery scholarship, a Palmetto Fellows worth up to $29,200 over four years, a graduate must meet one of two criteria:
Have a 1,200 SAT score, a 3.5 GPA at the end of his or her junior year and be in the top 6 percent of his or her graduating class at the end of their sophomore or junior year
Have a 1,400 SAT score or a 4.0 GPA at the end of the junior year.
South Carolina also has other lottery-funded scholarship programs, some of which award assistance based on income.
There is no legislation yet in the S.C. General Assembly that would raise eligibility standards for lottery scholarships or cap the amount paid by lottery-funded scholarships.
But Cooper and state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said South Carolina will need to address its system in the next two or three years.
South Carolina's lottery scholarship system has a vast reach, providing 112,298 scholarship awards during the 2009-2010 academic year, according to figures from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education.
Making it harder to get the scholarships or reducing the amount those scholarships pay would likely provoke an intense backlash. Students and parents have come to rely on the assistance to help them cover South Carolina's high college tuition costs, which exceed those anywhere else in the South.
That Georgia legislators have started down this bramble-infested path could stiffen the resolve of S.C. legislators.
"We look at our sister Southern states and see what they are doing," Courson said.
Georgia has proposed reducing its scholarship assistance to high school students who graduate with a 3.0 - roughly a "B" average - and reserving full-scholarship assistance to students who earn a 3.7 GPA, which requires making roughly two "A"s for every one "B."
Officials at S.C. colleges and universities repeatedly have stressed the importance of the lottery program.
"The most important question is what impact any changes in the structure or funding of the lottery scholarship program would have on individual students, their families, and their decisions to attend or remain in college," said Margaret Lamb, the University of South Carolina's director of media relations.
"After all, lottery scholarships are awarded to individual students and not institutions, and having the lottery scholarship program funded in a stable manner allows South Carolina families to plan for college without having to adjust those plans dramatically during challenging economic times."