Bill would make students with intellectual disabilities eligible for lottery scholarships

Brian Porterfield (right) was joined Friday by fellow students Johne Crepeau (left) and Drew Hendricks in a walk across the College of Charleston campus. Buy this photo

Stanley Porterfield has two sons in college, but only one of them is eligible for a lottery-funded LIFE scholarship.

LIFE Scholarship

What is a LIFE scholarship?

A merit-based $5,000 award funded by the South Carolina Education Lottery that goes to students who meet two of the following three criteria:

A 3.0 high school grade-point average

A score of 1,100 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT

Rank in the top 30 percent of their high school class

What would state Sen. Joel Lourie’s bill do?

It would modify criteria for earning an award to open the program to students with intellectual disabilities participating in programs at five of the state’s colleges and universities.

His son Brian Porterfield, 26, who is enrolled in the College of Charleston’s REACH program for students with intellectual disabilities, must pay the full cost of his education. And that’s not cheap. Tuition is about $16,000 for South Carolina residents in the REACH program, and room and board adds another $11,000 to the annual bill.

But that could change for families in the REACH program, as well as those enrolled in similar programs at four other state universities, if a bill filed last week ultimately passes.

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, filed the bill, which would make $5,000 LIFE scholarships available to students with intellectual disabilities such as Down syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome and autism. The bill would modify the current criteria required to land the lottery-funded award for those students.

“A $5,000 scholarship would go a long way,” Stanley Porterfield said. “We’ve managed, but it’s difficult. It’s a hardship.”

Brian Porterfield, who enrolled in REACH in 2010, said he has had to watch several friends leave the program because they ran out of money. “It hurts because you make friends so quickly, then you have to say, ‘Goodbye.’”

To earn a LIFE scholarship now, students must meet two of the following three criteria: have a high school grade-point average of 3.0 or higher; score at least an 1,100 on the SAT; and rank in the top 30 percent of their graduating classes.

They also must enroll in full-time degree programs in college. Students with intellectual disabilities can’t meet those criteria because they don’t come through the same traditional education system.

Lourie’s bill would modify requirements for those students including allowing half-time enrollment and permitting students to work toward earning certificates instead of degrees.

“If we’re going to have programs like this, we have to find a way to make it affordable to families,” Lourie said. He also said he’s not sure what the bill’s chances are of passing, or what kind of resistance it might encounter.

Four other schools in South Carolina have programs similar to REACH: The University of South Carolina and Clemson, Winthrop and Coastal Carolina universities.

REACH program director Edie Cusack said students in the four-year program take some academic classes with traditional students, receive career counseling, have internships and get on-the-job training. They live in a small dorm where about half of the residents are traditional students. They learn independent-living skills such as basic cooking and money management. And they learn how to better function socially among their peers.

Now, she said, her students “don’t get the same funds as the students sitting next to them in class.”

She also has seen several students who were forced to leave the program because they couldn’t afford it. “It was heartbreaking,” she said. “Participation in the program is life-changing.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491.

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