AIKEN -- Just as the College Board announced that tuition costs are climbing, a group of prominent Aiken County residents is launching a campaign to send students to post-secondary schools.
Barely a week old, the group of 19 includes bankers, lawyers, developers, doctors, engineers and a senator's wife. They have raised $150,000 -- mostly of their own money.
The news couldn't have come at a better time, the College Board studies show.
In addition to rising tuition costs, the group said greater numbers of students are going in debt for school because of scarcity of free dollars.
A record amount of financial aid is being awarded -- most in student loans.
In one of two new studies, the College Board reported tuition and fees nationwide rose less than 5 percent for the current school year, the smallest increase in four years.
Students and their families can thank a thriving economy, brimming state coffers and a vigorous stock market with boosting endowments and helping schools to rein in cost.
But it might not last.
That's where the Dollars for Scholars program can help.
In its first year, the group wants to award the graduating class at each of the county's seven high schools a scholarship. The classes of 2001 will be the first to receive the money.
Organizers say scholarships will be given to students who demonstrate academic ability, participated in extracurricular activities and have the potential to do well in a college.
That means that students who aren't at the top of their class or the school's star athletes have a shot at getting a free ride to college, which could save thousands of dollars in financial aid.
The College Board study also revealed that students received a record $64 billion in financial aid last year, 85 percent more than a decade ago, after figuring for inflation. In all, 58 percent of the aid came from loans, up from 40 percent in 1980-81.
A recent survey conducted by the College Board found that undergraduate:
* Students enrolled in a four-year public college in their home state pay $3,356. That's $109 more than last year. And at a private school, the cost for a four-year degree is 15,380, or $671 more than last year.
* Costs of two-year public schools were $1,627, or $73 more. Private school costs rose to $7,182, or $242 more.
* Students who paid out-of-state charges did better. On average, the survey found they paid $8,706 at public four-year schools, or $235 more. At two-year schools the price was $4,818, or $89 more.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.