South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster used a visit to Horry County on Friday to push for his plan to provide free community college to thousands of state residents.
McMaster visited the Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort — just north of city limits — to give the keynote address at the South Carolina Technical Education Association’s annual conference, held this week at the hotel.
During a roughly 20-minute speech, McMaster boosted his plan to spend $124 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds on scholarships for 15,000 South Carolinaians.
The scholarships provide free education at the state’s technical colleges, including the Horry-Georgetown Technical College, for associate degrees or credential programs for “high demand” careers such as health care, IT and manufacturing.
“It is clear to me, after being in this office and others … that our technical college system is the entrance to the gold mine for the people of South Carolina,” he told attendees.
McMaster said the state’s technical colleges were essential because they create programs to train students to work in jobs that are coming to the state.
McMaster said luring new companies here – and using the technical colleges to train their workers – makes South Carolina “attractive” to employers.
“Our obligation is to educate people and to train them so that they’ll be able to take these jobs that want to come here,” he said. “That’s all we have to do.”
State lawmakers must first approve the $124 million in spending, which would extend the scholarship program through June 2024. McMaster began the program with $12 million last year from a fund he controls. It provided several thousand scholarships.
Students in Horry County are already benefiting from the program, they’ve said.
The scholarship program would work like this:
Any recent high school graduate or adult living in South Carolina could apply to have tuition and fees of certain programs covered by the state. The recipient must maintain a 2.0 GPA and either work, volunteer 100 hours or take a financial literacy course as part of their studies.
The scholarships would cover the costs of several “high demand” career programs such asnursing, construction, commercial vehicle driving, logistics and computer science.
McMaster noted the scholarship funds could be used for those who want to obtain a commercial driver’s license. That’s an important program to fund now, he said, because the state is dredging Charleston’s port, meaning more trucks hauling more goods are in the state’s future.
“That money is not going to be wasted,” the governor said. “The more and more people we have that go through the technical college system, the more we realize that part of higher education is where the money is today.”
The governor also noted that in the 21st century, young people need some form of education after college if they want to land a well-paying job.
“I wouldn’t recommend going to work right (after high school) because, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got to have some brainpower. This world is not going to accept dummies no more,” McMaster joked.
Asked about parts of South Carolina that have less demand for these jobs, McMaster brushed off the question.
He said demand for workers across various sectors is high, and that his technical college scholarship program would target the workers needed to fill the new jobs.
“South Carolina is really growing, we’re growing well,” he said. “We want to do it the right way. We want to be sure we have economic growth and we need to be sure the weaknesses in our education system are fixed,” he said.