Bob Jones Univ. gets state aid
State lawmakers shot down a request for extra financial help for low-income students who will attend South Carolina's public colleges and universities next year.
Meanwhile, they approved $2.5 million to help low-income students attend Bob Jones University, a private school in Greenville.
The State Commission on Higher Education had requested $10 million to increase grants for some needy students attending public colleges and universities. Last year, low-income public school students received, on average, $1,158 in grants while their private-school counterparts received $3,100, nearly three times as much.
Layton McCurdy, chairman of the commission and former dean at the Medical University of South Carolina, said "the Legislature didn't think it was important enough. I'm not very happy about that."
The state Higher Education Tuition Grants Commission distributes "need-based" grant money to students who attend the state's private colleges and universities.
Legislators approved a bill this past session that allowed Bob Jones University to be added to the list of 20 other private schools that are part of that commission, and whose students are eligible for grants.
The General Assembly then approved a $2.5 million increase in the total pool of money the Tuition Grants Commission has to distribute to private school students.
Eddie Shannon, executive director of the Tuition Grants Commission, said that with the extra money, the
commission can give about 800 low-income Bob Jones University students $3,200 next year. That's the same amount most other needy private school students will receive, he said.
The bill to include Bob Jones University was sponsored by Sens. Michael Fair, R-Greenville, and Darrell Jackson, D-Hopkins.
Shannon said that although the bill didn't specifically mention Bob Jones University, "it happens to be the only new one that qualifies."
Before the legislation was passed, Shannon said, private colleges had to be nonprofit organizations, have a major campus and headquarters in South Carolina and be accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Under the new legislation, a private college can meet those criteria or it can simply be a bachelor's level institution chartered before 1962 with a major campus and headquarters in South Carolina, the latter of which allows Bob Jones to qualify.
Bob Jones University is not accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It wasn't accredited at all before 2006, but in November, it earned full accreditation from the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools.
The accreditation makes students eligible for federal grants and loans.
Shannon said it's important that the state offer some support to students who attend private colleges. Such colleges offer students a choice to attend smaller schools. Many students fare better in a smaller environment, he said.
McCurdy said the Commission on Higher Education will continue to press for more money for grants for needy public-school students.
"In my opinion," he said, "money for higher education is one of the most significant pressing needs of young people in our state."