With the help of his homeschool association and Home School Legal Defense Association, last month a homeschool graduate in South Carolina finally received the college scholarship to which he was entitled under state law. Surprisingly, the delay in the award was caused by policies of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education that contradicted its own regulations.
In 1998, the South Carolina General Assembly created the Legislative Incentives of Future Excellence (LIFE) Scholarships for high school graduates who are state residents and enroll in a college or university located in South Carolina. One of the eligibility requirements is that the student meet two of the following criteria: (1) earn a cumulative 3.0 grade point average as a high school graduate, (2) score at least 1100 on the SAT or an equivalent ACT score of 24, and (3) rank in the top 30% of the graduating class. Homeschooled students qualifying for the scholarship by class rank must be in a homeschool association that ranks as a matter of policy.
In the case at hand, the homeschool graduate was a member of Palmetto Homeschool Association, Inc. of Rock Hill and was admitted to Limestone College in Gaffney for the 2013 fall semester. Since he was qualifying for the LIFE Scholarship using his class rank, the association attached a ranking report to his transcript when submitting it to the college. Being unfamiliar with the ranking criterion, the financial office of the college contacted the commission on higher education for information. That’s where the trouble began. Despite the fact that state law says that the colleges “are responsible for ensuring that each student has met the criteria based on state law and regulation to determine eligibility for the LIFE Scholarship,” the commission usurped Limestone’s role and authority and demanded that the association produce proof of its class ranking policy by submitting its entire member handbook to the commission for scrutiny.
After the homeschool association contacted HSLDA for assistance, Senior Counsel Dewitt Black wrote a letter to the commission on behalf of the association and the student, followed by a conference call with commission officials concerning the propriety of its actions. Even after the association submitted documents from its handbook clearly showing its longstanding policy of class ranking and also submitted actual class ranking reports for its high school students, the commission was not satisfied. Commission officials insisted that the association also submit proof that the ranking reports and transcript had been calculated prior to June 15 of the school year in which the student graduated. There is no such deadline for these calculations in either the statutes or regulations governing LIFE Scholarships. However, in the interest of getting needed scholarship funds to its graduate as soon as possible, the association provided data showing that the calculations were within the commission’s deadline. Finally, after more than three months of contending with the commission, the association received a letter from the commission approving the student’s scholarship.
Although this particular student’s situation was resolved favorably, the potential for problems of this nature remains for homeschool graduates and associations. Member families denied state scholarships because of commission policies not supported by law should contact HSLDA for assistance.