GLENN MCCONNELL

GLENN MCCONNELL

Scholarships are more important than ever in higher education. As the total cost for a four-year degree continues to rise across the country, students are turning to Pell Grants, loans, financial aid and private scholarships to help cover the cost of their education.

In South Carolina, we have the Legislative Incentive for Future Excellence (LIFE) Scholarship, which is a merit-based scholarship program that may be used toward the cost-of-attendance at a South Carolina public or private college or university. Once a high school or home school program graduate has received the scholarship, he/she must maintain a minimum cumulative 3.0 grade-point average by the end of each academic year.

For context, a 3.0 GPA is a B grade or equivalent to an 85 on the percentile scale. Maintaining a 3.0 GPA is no easy task. So, why are we putting such a high amount of pressure on students to do so each year so they can retain their LIFE scholarships? After they achieve the 3.0 the first year, I believe the GPA requirement should be lowered or completely replaced with another measure of academic progress. Also, I propose that we exempt all 300 and 400-level courses from counting toward the scholarship’s GPA requirement. Most upper-level courses are for a student’s major and are more difficult by design.

College presidents around the state and across the country have all heard the many anecdotal stories about students panicking regarding the potential loss of their scholarship because they bombed a test or project, which significantly lowered their class grade. We’ve all also heard the stories of students deciding to take what they deem to be “easier” classes so they can maintain their scholarship. This is antithetical to what college is about and, I believe, detrimental to the students’ academic experience and their preparedness for the workforce.

In my opinion, we should be letting students know that, from time to time, we all struggle, but it’s not about how you fall, but how you get back up and learn from the experience. This is how you grow and develop lifelong learners and productive citizens. We should encourage students to take the tougher and more challenging courses and to dive headfirst into complex subject material rather than worry about maintaining the perfect scholarship GPA. Students need to take the courses that will prepare them for careers in our global society, not the courses that are an “easy A” to maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Amending the LIFE Scholarship’s GPA requirement may also very well encourage students to take more courses in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). If students know that a 3.0 GPA is not required for them to maintain their scholarship, they may decide to pursue a degree in STEM or earn a minor in these subjects. And we all know that universities in South Carolina and around the country need to produce more graduates in the STEM fields, which is a priority of many employers.

Scholarships have the power to change the entire trajectory of a student’s life. I see that reaffirmed daily. Oftentimes, scholarship support is the one thing keeping students from dropping out. Scholarships provide students the opportunity to become the next great entrepreneur, talented artist or groundbreaking scientist. It’s on us to call on our state legislators to make changes to the LIFE Scholarship GPA requirement. It’s the right thing to do, and it will lead to more students earning their degree. Every college degree earned by a South Carolinian is a long-term investment in the success and future of our state.

Glenn F. McConnell is the president of the College of Charleston and a former S.C. lieutenant governor and former president pro tempore of the South Carolina Senate.

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