About six years ago, Jonathan Coleman, executive director of the Laurens County Development Corp., heard about a scholarship program in Kingsport, Tenn. that was improving degree attainment and per capita income in that city. He took particular interest in that program because he and other Laurens County business and community leaders believed their county needed something similar.
“We needed to increase not just degree attainment in the county, but help provide a better trained and skilled workforce,” Coleman said. “We heard of that program in Kingsport, Tenn., we visited them and learned about what they were doing. They had seen an increase in per capita income, degree attainment and more. We came back and started to design a program for our system.”
It took some time to iron out all of the details, but now students in Laurens County can access educational funding through the Laurens County Future Scholarship, which provides recent high school graduates with a tuition-free path to complete two years of technical training, or the first half of a bachelor's degree. It has been operation for a year, with the first group of participating students in their second year of school.
According to Robin Day, executive assistant to the board of directors of the Laurens County Community Foundation, the scholarship “allows eligible students to begin a quality college education tuition free.”
The scholarship program is available to all Laurens County residents who graduate from high school in the previous academic year to attend Piedmont Technical College or University of South Carolina Union. There is no minimum or maximum credit-hour limit per semester, students must meet the same criteria for making satisfactory academic progress and enrollment status that recipients of federal financial aid programs must meet. Students must complete their degree within two years, they may also transfer the credits they have earned toward a higher degree. The Laurens County Future Scholarship covers any gap in tuition funding for two consecutive years, including lab fees but not application and book fees.
“It’s really working well,” Day said. “It inspires the students living here who thought maybe college wasn’t an option for them.”
In addition to private donations, program funding and support comes from the Laurens County Community Foundation, Laurens County Development Corp., Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, cities of Laurens and Clinton, Laurens County United Way, Piedmont Rural Telephone Cooperative and Laurens County Memorial Hospital.
According to information from the Future Scholarship committee, the initiative benefits Laurens County in a number of ways - increased economic development activity, lower crime rate, lower unemployment rate, higher wages, higher per capita income, a more successful business sector, aids in attracting new residents to Laurens County and retaining current residents and a higher quality of life.
Day said the average scholarship funding per student is $1,225, with the largest amount awarded $1,619 and the smallest amount $30.
The scholarship does not restrict students to any particular major. Day said 27% of the students are studying in the industrial and engineering fields, 24% are university transfer students, and 21% are in the nursing and healthcare. Other areas of study include public service (9%), agriculture (7%), accounting (5%), graphic design (2%) and information technology (2%).