SC educators say scholarships tied to GPA may be deterring top students from tough classes

 

COLUMBIA — Educators worry that lottery-backed scholarships tied to grades are deterring South Carolina’s top students from taking advanced courses in their senior year of high school.

Melanie Barton, director of the Education Oversight Committee, said students are telling guidance counselors they don’t want to jeopardize their chance of getting a scholarship by taking a tough course that could bring a low grade. It appears to particularly be a concern for students expecting to receive Palmetto Fellow scholarships, awarded to classes’ top graduates.

The system might actually deter high-performing students from challenging themselves academically, instead of encouraging students to take Advanced Placement or dual enrollment classes that allow them to earn college credit, Barton said.

“Senior-year students are saying, ‘Mom or Dad doesn’t want me to take that AP chemistry class because they don’t want to risk losing Palmetto Fellows.’ But the student really needs it because the student wants to be pre-med. The issue becomes money versus learning,” she said Tuesday.

The Education Oversight Committee does not yet have statewide numbers. Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget proposal for 2014-15 includes a clause that tasks the agency with investigating the potential problem and, depending on its findings, evaluating solutions. A report would be due by Dec. 1.

Barton said the reluctance seems to be a byproduct of the economic downturn, which heightened parents’ concerns about paying increasing tuition costs.

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