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USC grants to help state's neediest students attend college

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's poorest students can attend the University of South Carolina tuition-free starting next fall by applying for the school's Gamecock Guarantee scholarship program.

The university will offer fully paid tuition and technology fees for up to four years to about 200 poor students next year. By 2011, the grants will go to about 800 students yearly, the school announced this week.

Money should not prevent the state's neediest students from going to college, said Scott Verzyl, USC's undergraduate director of admissions.

"We realize there are many low-income students who are bright and capable but who are not considering a four-year college experience because they feel the tuition costs are unaffordable for them," he said.

The program should increase the school's racial and economic diversity, Verzyl said.

Fewer black students have enrolled in USC in recent years as admissions requirements and costs have risen.

"Whether you are white or black, it is the goal of the program to break the cycle of poverty," Verzyl said.

USC will cover the program's initial $1 million cost from its budget, President Andrew Sorensen said. He hopes donations will allow the school to expand the program to cover all college costs, including housing and food.

"Somewhere tonight — in Fort Mill, in Clearwater, in Allendale, in Seneca — a student may be sitting down with a parent at the kitchen table to see how and where the family will find the money for college," Sorensen said. "Our hope is that the Gamecock Guarantee will make a college education at Carolina possible."

More universities are offering such needs-based scholarships.

Earlier this year, Davidson College, a private school near Charlotte, N.C., announced it would cover tuition for any student who was admitted but could not afford the school's cost. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has a similar program.

The University of South Carolina is calling Gamecock Guarantee the first program of its kind for Palmetto State schools.

The grants will be awarded to South Carolina residents attending college for the first time, who qualify for the federal Pell grant program and whose families earn less than $25,000. Applicants must meet admissions standards for USC's Columbia campus.

Students can lose their scholarships if they don't continue to meet academic requirements each semester.


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