A new, state-funded scholarship designed to boost the number of technical college graduates in “critical” fields and from low-income backgrounds could help some students at Piedmont Technical College pay tuition this fall.

Josh Black, Piedmont Tech’s vice president of student affairs and communications, said the college is still trying to determine the number of students who are eligible for the South Carolina Workforce and Industry Needs Scholarship.

But President Ray Brooks said the scholarship’s requirement that recipients be pursuing a degree in one of these fields “would overlay 80% of our programs.” Critical workforce areas include healthcare, computer and information technology, advanced manufacturing, construction, hospitality and tourism and transportation.

SC WINS will only be available to those already eligible for the Lottery Tuition Assistance scholarship, which the former will supplement. But the requirements for LTA are lax relative to other scholarships: students need only to be South Carolina residents, be taking six to 12 credit hours per semester — roughly two to four courses — and not be a recipient of the state’s HOPE, LIFE or Palmetto Fellows Scholarships.

Like LTA, SC WINS is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it is applied after other federal and state sources of tuition assistance have been exhausted. It would provide students with $50 per credit hour on top of the $95 they already receive from LTA. Combined, the two would cover almost $1,800 of Piedmont Tech’s tuition of $2,148 for full-time students.

The legislature has set $17 million aside for the scholarship this coming year. Black said it is expected to be a recurring program.

In addition to those pursuing a degree in a critical workforce area, SC WINS will be available to any student who meets income eligibility guidelines for free and reduced lunch.

“Depending on where you live, because we have differential tuition by the county, between 73 and 80% of our tuition rate is covered for adult students by the program,” Black said.

The scholarship is also distinguished by the fact that it is available to high school dual-enrollment students — those who take college courses alongside their high school courses — and provides a $300 textbook stipend.

“The dual enrollment (aspect) really is as exciting as anything,” said Jack Bagwell, vice president for academic affairs. “It could open the floodgates.”

Black said that the combination of LTA and SC WINS could almost entirely eliminate the cost of taking dual-enrollment courses in high school. Guidance counselors, he continued, have cited cost as a major factor for underwhelming enrollment in such courses.

In order to completely eliminate any barrier to pursuing a dual-enrollment course, Piedmont Tech has adjusted the cost of the courses to that they are entirely covered by the combination of LTA and SC WINS, Black said.

“We’re removing the last little tenth of a mile to go,” Bagwell added.

“Prior to this program even being approved, well over 70 percent of our students were already going with no tuition, with all the state and federal financial aid programs that are already available,” Black said. “If you build in the promise programs and you build in this new SC WINS opportunity, there’s literally no reason that somebody should look at cost as a barrier to attendance at this point.”

Contact staff writer Aleks Gilbert at 864-943-5644.