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SC governor: $17M of pandemic cash for free 2-year degrees

South Carolina economy doesn't slow; state now has extra $1B

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is pictured during a news conference in Great Falls. 

The latest estimate released Wednesday said South Carolina lawmakers will have nearly $1 billion more to spend this budget year, according to the state Board of Economic Advisers.

COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants to spend the last $17 million of his COVID-19 education relief money to fully pay for anyone to go to a technical college for two years to train to enter high demand jobs.

The governor plans to make the announcement Wednesday afternoon at a factory in Duncan. His senior education advisor and the president of the state's 16 technical colleges spoke to The Associated Press about the plan Tuesday.

"This will provide high-demand, high-skilled job training in areas like health care, manufacturing, IT and construction," South Carolina Technical College System President Tim Hardee said.

McMaster wants to help up to 15,000 people by paying for the tuition, fees, textbooks and materials for associate's degrees, but to continue the program, he will need the General Assembly to add $124 million, said Melanie Barton, the governor's senior education advisor.

The governor is basing his new program on an initiative from right after the pandemic started in early 2020 where he spent $12 million in federal relief money to pay for 12-week programs to certify people for critical need jobs, Barton said.

About 4,000 people have taken advantage of the program to become truck drivers, forklift operators or welders. Nearly 500 of them are now working as nursing assistants, officials said.

Nursing and other health care jobs will fall under the new program across the state. But Hardee said individual technical schools can adjust based on the biggest needs.

The Upstate might need factory workers with robotics skills, while the coast needs people to work in hospitality and Columbia employers might need computer experts, Hardee said.

To get the scholarships, people will need to remain employed while taking classes or either do 100 hours of community service or take a financial literacy course.

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