COLUMBIA -- State lawmakers promised a lottery would make a college education in South Carolina more affordable.
For some students including the highest-achieving and those enrolled at two-year institutions the lottery has lived up to lawmakers' promises.
But for college-bound students of average achievement, the lottery hasn't made college less costly. Some now shell out more for tuition and fees than in the pre-lottery days.
After the lottery's inception five years ago, the state's public colleges enacted steep tuition hikes raising tuition to the point that it is now the highest in the South.
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Those increases especially hurt students who qualified for the LIFE scholarships. (LIFE recipients scored 1100 or better on the SAT and had a GPA of 3.0 or better.)
Students qualifying for a LIFE scholarship today versus nine years ago are paying on average about $1,200 more annually.
According to data collected by the S.C. Commission on Higher Education-
nIn the pre-lottery 1998-1999 school year, the average tuition and fees for S.C. colleges and universities was $3,621. Students who qualified for a LIFE scholarship received $2,000, leaving a balance of $1,621 or 42 percent of the total cost, unpaid.
nThis school year, the average tuition and fees total $7,800. And while a LIFE scholarship now pays $5,000 thanks to the lottery, the balance is $2,800, or 37 percent.
State colleges and universities have explained their tuition increases as a reaction to the state underfunding their schools for years.
"(Lawmakers) haven't, and they still aren't, adequately funding the (educational) institutions," said Olin Sansbury, a retired administrator and professor from USC Upstate.
"It's been a problem for 10 years. The lottery has given the Legislature political cover to continue underfunding them," Sansbury said, noting USC Upstate has had to make tough decisions because of the fund shortfall.
"We were forced to limit certain programs, including limiting enrollment in our nursing program, because of it," he said.
Still, some groups of students have gotten a sweetheart deal thanks to the lottery.
That includes Palmetto Fellows, an elite group of high-achieving students who receive $6,700 in state funds per academic year. These students scored at least 1200 on the SAT and have a minimum GPA of 3.5.
It's a similar scene for college sophomores who major in math, science and related fields. They receive more than $7,000 in scholarship funding annually.
But among the biggest winners are students bound for two-year institutions.
For the spring semester of 2008, these full-time students will receive $912 in state funding. That will cover a good chunk of the $1,524 average tuition for the state's 16 technical colleges.
"Lottery tuition assistance has made participation at the two-year institutions in particular affordable," said Russ Bumba of the S.C. Technical College System.
But some argue there's a group of students who need additional lottery funding.
The S.C. Commission on Higher Education recommended earlier this month that the state put more funding in the needs-based grants funded by the lottery.
"(The grants) are very effective," said Garrison Walters, the commission's executive director. "If South Carolina is going to become a more educated state .Ê.Ê. the college-going rate in the less well-off community is going to have to rise substantially."