University of South Carolina

Gamecock Guarantee graduates 1st class

By Megan Sexton, msexton@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-1421

Shannon Schoultz worried about making the transition to college, leaving her home in tiny Beech Island, S.C., in Aiken County and moving to a large university in the state’s capital city.

The University of South Carolina’s Opportunity Scholars and Gamecock Guarantee programs eased her fears.

“Through these programs, you have an at-home atmosphere in a large university. It creates a family away from home for you,” Schoultz said. “A lot of my graduating class from high school went off to college and didn’t stay long. They moved back home.”

Not so for Schoultz, who will graduate from USC this weekend with a degree in sports and entertainment management. She’ll be heading to law school at American University in Washington in the fall, and she hopes to work as an attorney for a nonprofit community service agency.

She credits the Gamecock Guarantee program – which offers low-income, first-generation college students from South Carolina financial incentives and an academic support structure – for her success at Carolina.

“As the state’s flagship university, it’s our obligation to ensure that a Carolina degree is accessible to all qualified students of South Carolina, not just those with the family means to afford an education,” said Dennis Pruitt, USC’s vice president for student affairs. “The Gamecock Guarantee supports students who have the academic ability and intellect, but need the opportunity to succeed at the university. These are students who are members of our Honors College and Capstone Scholars program, leaders of service organizations and winners of research competitions. With the program’s support, financial need is no longer a barrier to these students’ successes, and it no longer prevents the university from being enriched by their talents.”

The first graduating class of Gamecock Guarantee recipients will walk across the stage this weekend at USC’s commencement exercises. Of the 93 original Gamecock Guarantee students who started as freshmen four years ago, 52 will graduate this year, a four-year graduation rate on par with the rest of the student body and ahead of the low-income student national average.

The key, according to Paul Beasley, director of USC’s TRIO Opportunity Scholars Program, is giving students the tools and the opportunities to succeed.

“Our goal is to provide a community of support in the Opportunity Scholars Program,” Beasley said. “Bringing them into a structured environment is the most important thing we do. Our goal is to help these students take advantage of opportunities on campus.”

That means small classes in their first years at USC, a dedicated faculty working with Opportunity Scholars and Gamecock Guarantee students and encouragement to form productive relationships with faculty and peers. Gamecock Guarantee recipients in the Honors College and Capstone Scholars program receive similar support.

Instructor Leslie Haynsworth said she sees Gamecock Guarantee students in her freshman English class who have a “comfort level and a willingness to speak up” in smaller classes with students from similar backgrounds. “They gain the confidence as freshman to know they can succeed here.”

That’s been part of the reason for Kwade Channell’s success. Channell is a Gamecock Guarantee student who will be graduating this weekend with a degree in accounting and finance from the Darla Moore School of Business. A native of Greenville, he will head to Pittsburgh after graduation for a finance and accounting internship with Eaton Corp.

“As Opportunity Scholars and Gamecock Guarantee students, we had smaller classes to start and had two or three classes with the same group. We got more one-on-one time with the professor and we were able to form study groups and relationships,” Channell said. “It taught me the fundamentals, so when I got to other classes I had the study skills.”

Channell has also been an active University and Presidential Ambassador, leading tours for prospective students and helping host events on campus. He said he came to Carolina because of the strong business program along with service opportunities outside the classroom.

“I chose Carolina because I was looking for a school that would give me opportunities within the school and within the city,” he said. “I was accepted at USC, Clemson and the College of Charleston. USC did the most to help me afford a quality education, offering me scholarships on top of the Gamecock Guarantee.”

The Gamecock Guarantee covers the cost of undergraduate tuition and technology fees at USC, providing each participant a minimum of $2,500 a year. If the award combined with other grants and scholarships in the student's financial aid package does not meet the cost of tuition and technology fees, then the Gamecock Guarantee will cover the difference. In other words, Gamecock Guarantee recipients who retain eligibility and graduate in four years will not pay any tuition or technology fee from their own pockets.

That means students are leaving college with a degree and little debt.

“I don’t have any debt coming out of undergraduate school,” Schoultz said. “I’m going to be stepping into some debt for law school, but this has made law school more affordable in a sense.”

USC leaders will watch the first Gamecock Guarantee students graduate this weekend with plenty of Gamecock pride.

“It’s tremendously gratifying to see this first group of students graduate. They are all bright, talented students, but many of them have said that without the Gamecock Guarantee, they wouldn’t have been able to attend college. With the program’s support, they’ve not only attended, they’ve thrived. They’ve taken advantage of every opportunity that Carolina has to offer – student organizations, undergraduate research, community service, study abroad and as such are now prepared to provide leadership to their university and their community,” Pruitt said. “And now they’re graduating with the skills they need for lifelong learning and success. It’s an important milestone in their lives and in the history of the University of South Carolina.”

About Gamecock Guarantee

  • Recipients attend extended orientation, receive intensive academic advising and enroll in University 101 sections designed especially for them.
  • Recipients must be low-income South Carolina residents and first-generation college students.
  • Undergraduate tuition and technology fees are covered for up to four years if the program’s academic, financial and participation criteria are met.
  • Students receive a minimum award of $2,500 a year

About the TRIO Opportunity Scholars Program

  • Provides a small-college environment specifically tailored to the needs of first-generation college students.
  • Provides academic advising, tutoring, guidance on undergraduate research and study abroad opportunities, mentoring and cultural enrichment opportunities.
  • Allows students to take core freshman-level classes from faculty and staff prepared to meet their needs and concerns.
  • Reduces tuition for students taking three or more OSP courses

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Posted: 05/03/12 @ 1:00 PM | Updated: 12/20/12 @ 11:59 AM | Permalink