COLUMBIA -- Houston billionaire Robert McNair will add $10 million to the $20 million he already gave to establish the McNair Scholars program for high-achieving out-of-state students attending the University of South Carolina.
McNair joined USC president Andrew Sorensen on Friday on the campus Horseshoe to announce the new gift to McNair's alma mater. He established the USC scholarship fund for 80 students 20 in each class to help attract some of the highest-achieving high-school graduates in the country to the Columbia campus.
The McNair Scholarships are helping put the university on the map nationally, Sorensen said.
When McNair set up the endowment 10 years ago, he provided money for university administrators to travel and recruit the scholars nationwide, in addition to the money for the scholarships. Currently, about $80,000 from McNair's funds are budgeted annually for recruiting.
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Sorensen said the additional $10 million will ensure the program's longevity and status as one of the most sought-after scholarship programs nationwide.
"We want to make sure this program remains at the very top in the country," McNair said.
"We believe we are stewards of these assets and I don't know of a better way than to invest in these young people," McNair said.
The McNair Scholars fund is similar to USC's Carolina Scholars program for top students from South Carolina.
Since the McNair awards began in 1998, there have been 175 scholars. Eighty-one scholars are currently enrolled at USC, and 94 who received the award have already graduated.
The current McNair scholars are in 31 majors. They have come from 18 states. They have won 31 national academic awards; their ranks have included two Truman scholars, three Goldwater scholars, three Fulbright scholars and 11 Rotary scholars. Lara Bratcher won Glamour magazine's Top 10 College Women award.
The class of McNair scholars enrolled last fall had an average SAT score of 1487. For the fall of 2008, there have been 1,000 applications for the 20 positions, Sorensen said, a ratio of 50 applications for each scholarship.
Other facts about the program:
• The McNair scholars represent 18 states. The state with the most scholars is Tennessee (13); North Carolina is second (11), and Texas and Virginia tie for third (8).
• At least 14 McNair scholars have stayed in South Carolina for graduate school, and six have remained to live and work in the Palmetto State.
• McNair scholars often study abroad. During the spring 2008 semester, 10 McNair scholars are studying abroad in the Czech Republic, Australia, Thailand, Ghana, France, Taiwan, Italy and England.
• McNair scholars have been varsity athletes. Alumni include Grace Blakely (2007), varsity tennis, and Dean Emmerton (2005), swimming and diving. Members of the university's cross-country and track teams Jenny Lake (2005) and Karen Wigal (2007) were standouts in their sport.
Attracting high-achieving students helps boost USC's academic reputation. Some of them also settle in South Carolina.
One such student is Patrick Kelly from Oakridge, Tenn., who enrolled at Carolina in 1999 with the second year of McNair Scholars. The history and political science major earned his bachelor's degree in 2003. He earned a master of arts in teaching from USC in 2004 and teaches at Blythewood High School.