Law keeps some low-income tech school students from receiving lottery funds

Losing the Lottery

| October 03, 2012
A web of red tape keeps Robert Jenkins in a tough financial dilemma.
- Jonathan Boncek
A web of red tape keeps Robert Jenkins in a tough financial dilemma.
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You can't miss Robert Jenkins. As he waits for class to start in a student lounge area at Trident Technical College, strangers walk up and give him high-fives. One student passes by humming the Spider-Man theme. Another asks Jenkins to pose for a picture.

What grabs their attention, of course, is Jenkins' air-brushed Spidey costume, one of about 40 homemade outfits in his wardrobe paying homage to everyone from Michael Jackson to the Incredible Hulk. But what most people don't know about Jenkins is that he has been unemployed since he moved to North Charleston in September 2011 to take care of his ailing mother. They don't know about his dream of learning how to use graphic design software and selling locally produced merchandise to tourists. And they don't know that, although he's eligible to receive $1,140 worth of lottery-funded tuition assistance for his fall semester of classes at Trident, he won't get a penny of it.


Here's the problem with South Carolina's Lottery Tuition Assistance Program for two-year colleges: It provides no assistance whatsoever to some of the state's neediest students. In Jenkins' case, tuition and fees come out to $1,930.12 for the current fall semester — and fortunately for him, a $2,100 federal Pell grant covers that cost. But because his tuition is already covered, and because state law dictates that two-year tuition assistance can only be spent on tuition, he's not receiving any of the state lottery money that shows up on his financial aid forms.

In addition to the tuition-only stipulation, the law requires that two-year Lottery Tuition Assitance money has to be applied to tuition after federal need-based Pell grants. The two-year assistance is different from the lottery-funded LIFE scholarship, an up-to-$2,350-a-semester award that can be disbursed to students as an overage check if their total scholarships for a semester exceed the cost of tuition. Some two-year students are eligible for the LIFE, which has minimum requirements for GPA and SAT scores, but not many: In the fall 2011 semester, 389 Trident students received LIFE scholarships, compared to 5,102 who received Lottery Tuition Assistance.

The reason all of this matters is that the cost of college is always more than just tuition. That phantom $1,140 would go a long way toward buying textbooks, bus fare, art supplies, and everything else he needs for class. He bought a refurbished MacBook this summer for $500, but he still hasn't gotten together the roughly $350 to buy the Adobe software suite he needs for a design class.

The net result of Jenkins' financial situation is that, rather than getting an overage check for the lottery money (as many students at four-year colleges do), he takes out student loans. But even the loan money didn't come in until mid-September, nearly a month after classes started, so he turned to the only people he knew would help: the Economic Empowerment Justice League.

The Justice League

If you think you recognize Robert Jenkins and his sartorial nods to comic book heroes, it might be from the relentless media coverage of Occupy Charleston last year. It was at a December 2011 Occupy event, a symbolic funeral march for the First Amendment, that Jenkins first met Kathi Regalbuto, a like-minded Occupier from Summerville whose son had recently graduated college and who was interested in matters of inequality in higher education.

Together, Jenkins and Regalbuto formed an Occupy Charleston splinter group with the appropriately outsize moniker Economic Empowerment Justice League. "We wanted to point out to Occupy Charleston that some of the people in the group were the people that needed help," Jenkins says.

When Jenkins started taking classes at Trident this summer and realized he was going to come up short for school supplies, Regalbuto and a few other EEJL members floated him the money until he could pay them back with the student loan money. Then Regalbuto set out to fix what she saw as a broken system. "I think in general there is an injustice about the lottery funds," she says.

Regalbuto started a petition on calling for state legislators to amend the laws about how lottery-funded tuition assistance is disbursed to two-year college students.

Her proposal is that only 50 percent of a student's Pell grant money should be applied toward tuition at first, allowing lottery money to cover the rest and leaving the remaining half of the Pell money to help cover non-tuition expenses. She has also written to her state legislators, but she hasn't heard anything back yet.

Michelle List, a retired bookseller in Summerville, was an early signer of the petition. She says she was amazed when she learned how the state treated Pell grant recipients. "Why penalize the people who really need it?" List says. "It just seems like the law is intentionally written to penalize the people who need it most."

To paraphrase List's question: Why is the state's two-year college assistance assistance program for tuition only, while the scholarships that many four-year students receive can be used for more than just tuition? A representative at Trident's financial aid office says the matter is out of the school's hands. "That is a state regulation that unfortunately we have to follow," she says. Holly Armstrong, a spokesperson for the Education Lottery, doesn't have an answer either. "We just make the money and then transfer it," she says.

The policy comes from the state legislature, which, for one reason or another, wrote in the 2001 law establishing the lottery that two-year tuition assistance would include "the amount charged for registering for credit hours of instruction and academic fees, less all federal grants and need-based grants, and does not include other fees, charges, or costs of textbooks." This is not the case for other lottery-funded scholarships like LIFE, which can the cover cost of attendance, not just the cost of tuition.

According to Cathy Almquist, the Trident's director of institutional research and assessment, 57 percent of Pell recipients (5,159 out of 8,982) also received student loans in fall 2011. That semester, 611 students received the state-funded Need-Based Grant, a limited fund for the neediest students, but that still left a sizeable portion of federal Pell grant recipients who needed additional money to cover school expenses.

Technical college students represent the largest higher-education population in South Carolina, accounting for over 98,000 of the 208,000 students enrolled in public colleges as of fall 2011. And Radhika Singh Miller, the program manager for educational debt relief at the national nonprofit organization Equal Justice Works, says the tuition-only distinction for two-year students is unusual compared to other state programs.

"It's actually a pretty unique law because it's restricted just to tuition," Miller says. "A lot of other states have similar grants — HOPE, Lifetime Learning Grants, all those sorts of things ... and they'll encompass the cost of attendance, which includes room and board, book expenses, the need to buy a computer."

According to a nationwide 2009 study by the Institute for College Access & Success, community college students are more likely than four-year students to receive Pell grants, but they are also less likely to receive state grants and grants from their colleges. "It's not because they don't need aid," says Debbie Cochrane, research director at TICAS. "Community college students still face the same exact types of costs that students at four-year colleges face, but they get far less aid to cover those costs."

To sign Kathi Regalbuto's petition, click here. To learn more about Robert Jenkins' superhero-inspired outfits, click here.

Kathi Regalbuto is fighting social injustice one signature at a time.
Kathi Regalbuto is fighting social injustice one signature at a time.
- Jonathan Boncek
- Jonathan Boncek
- Jonathan Boncek


Comments (37)

Showing 1-25 of 37

You wrote two articles on a 50+ man-child who dresses as a "super hero", giving what he does credibility and enabling him to keep doing it. This is a man who walks downtown Charleston in copyright violation of both Marvel Comics & DC, and expects handouts from strangers for doing so. He even proposed that Occupy Charleston pay for his license to do so.
The extent of his "graphic design" work is done through a cheap site called . His "locally produced" merchandise is nothing more than his images from the above mentioned site printed on a piece of fabric, purchased from a website and produced out of state with no sales tax. I recommend going to his Facebook and browsing through one of the many pictures of him with various overlays and blur filters. (…). If you like bad movies, awkward family photos, or epic fails your going to love his work.
If you want to pity someone, or write an article doing so, why choose a man who has had half a century to get his affairs in order, take him self seriously (by not dressing as batman when he goes to collage) and expect everyone but him self to pay for tuition? Could you really not find a better example to write about the unfairness of tuition? A 50 year old Spiderman is the best you could come up with? In the interview process, when you have to listen to his ramblings and elementary logic did you not think, "There's got to be a better person to write about"?
How about an article for the thousands of young students who were not eligible for ANY tuition grants and are now stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student dept in a job market that doesn't want to hire?
You are not helping this man by writing two articles about him. You are giving him an excuse to continue on as he has been, expecting everyone but himself to fund what he wants to do. He is the poster man-child of the downfall and flaw in Occupy, and our gimme society.

report 13 of 28 people like this.   
Posted by GuineaPirate on October 3, 2012 at 10:51 AM

Discerning the stated mission of the ELA and the actual mission only takes following the money. The ELA transfers cash from undereducated working class to graduate degreed administrators. Any "education" is secondary.

report 3 of 4 people like this.   
Posted by sdr35hw on October 3, 2012 at 10:52 AM

I agree, he should only be promoting officially licensced products for Marvel and DC comics, like the officially licensed Guy Fawke's mask from Warner Bros..

report 12 of 13 people like this.   
Posted by MetaSapient on October 3, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Nat Mundy thank you for all the hate it motivates ...this article is not about me is about the unjust way the Lottery gives money to the 1% and ignores the bottom half of the 99% ... I can dig if you are a hater. But the kind of clothes I wear is not the issue . I thank you for your biased comment .

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Posted by Robert Jenkins on October 3, 2012 at 12:22 PM

Here it is folks! This is your superhero Mr. Occupy himself! This is the representation of what was once (once... like one time, possibly one hour of one day, at least one theory) an intelligent social movement. He knows nothing of the education lottery and nothing about the subjects he so passionately speaks of. Welcome to the 21st Century folks. Punctuation doesn't matter, ideas don't matter, facts don't matter, conviction doesn't matter. All that matters is peer pressure, money and a catalyst that sparks a raving mob of ignorant morons too self involved to look globally. To think that I actually had the nearsighted expectations to involve myself still amazes me. The message started off good though.

report 6 of 12 people like this.   
Posted by Breaking Plaid on October 3, 2012 at 12:37 PM

What an incredible injustice. A law that distributes welfare money in such a way that some blacks on welfare don't get a total educational free ride.

And Robert Jenkins, obviously a great intellectual, is 100% right = Anyone who objects in any way to all blacks getting every thing free without doing anything for it is a hater and a racist.

White people, if they were fair, would be willing to work overtime and be happy for the government to steal the money they worked for and give it to welfare blacks like Robert Jenkins.

God bless Robert Jenkins and all black welfare-ites; God bless President Obama, God bless Me; God bless God; and God bless America

report 4 of 15 people like this.   
Posted by CHRISHAREGOBBLESGOOBERS on October 3, 2012 at 12:44 PM

Oh my God. What an injustice ! A regulation for the distribution of welfare money in such a way that not all blacks get what they think is a fair share.

The wrongness of this injustice is exacerbated by the fact that stunning intellectuals, like Robert Jenkins, doesn't get everything free.

The decision makers here are obviously honky racists and should be jailed.

More welfare for Robert Jenkins; more welfare for all blacks; and everything free for everyone except working white people.

God bless all Obama welfare-ites, God bless Robert Jenkins and other fools; and God bless America.

report 3 of 11 people like this.   
Posted by CHRISHAREGOBBLESGOOBERS on October 3, 2012 at 1:04 PM

Robert Jenkins is a dedicated, local activist who divides his time between his education, caring for a disabled member of his family and working on local issues. I've never seen him demand anything for himself but a ride home or a drink of water. He always has a smile for everyone and listens patiently at the events he attends to people who are often angry or confused. I find the hatred directed towards him revolting and a simple expression of the racial and class hatred which tends to define public life in South Carolina. This vicious racism and class hatred is something that we thought would fade away here when I was younger but we must now accept the frantic ravings of the redneck fringe to be the defining terms of public discourse. Our alleged Southern patriotism, Christianity and manners are actually the thinnest veneer over our twisted hypocrisy. I remind you that God is watching all of us. Hell is miserable and forever is a long, long time.

report 11 of 14 people like this.   
Posted by wjhamilton29464 on October 3, 2012 at 1:29 PM

I refer not to the article, which seems fine, but to the content of the comments here.

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Posted by wjhamilton29464 on October 3, 2012 at 1:31 PM

MetaSapient, FTW

Posted by mat catastrophe on October 3, 2012 at 1:42 PM


Your article is excellent and your opinion well taken, but I think you may not fully discern why we, the !% (or 47%), allow idiots like Robert Jenkins to show his idiocy. There are two principal reasons:
1. A black on the street demanding more welfare proves our point;
2. We have to get to a critical mass where we will take to the streets and
polls and stop the Obama welfare state.

report 3 of 12 people like this.   
Posted by CHRISHAREGOBBLESGOOBERS on October 3, 2012 at 1:55 PM

Wow, Nat. There you are in your anon mask ... as I looked over many photos of Occupy events in the past year, you were there, doing the good work with us. So now you've devolved into cheap character assassination? When you hit 50, you should be half the man Robert Jenkins is.

report 5 of 7 people like this.   
Posted by MelvintheBarbarian on October 3, 2012 at 2:08 PM

The ELA is distributed in such a way to provide free or reduced tuition. Do you already have your tuition covered by the Pell grant? Yes? Then the funds should go to someone who does not so they may have the opportunity to go to school.

Is it different than almost all other state and federal awards? Yes, but it is fair and equitable as it is applied to all students in the same manner.

This article is interesting and useful in that it points out the difference between this grant and most others, but the legislation determining the distribution of funds should not change.

report 4 of 4 people like this.   
Posted by muloow on October 3, 2012 at 2:11 PM

What muloow said was accurate about the ELA's regulations. The only reason the LIFE/Fellow's scholars still receive their check even if their tuition is covered is because they have earned their scholarship via academic excellence (based not only on standardized tests but also educational achievement in high school).

Providing an underprivileged person with a reduced tuition for a 2 year school is great, but that's the Pell grant's function as well, when there is an overlap the ELA money can go to someone who is not receiving a Pell grant and still has tuition costs.

While I feel for those like Robert, who are in need of further assistance, I can't say that I'm for them receiving extra funding past tuition coverage, as I was a Palmetto Fellow's Scholar and scholarships from my undergraduate college of choice yet I still had to take out 24k in student loans in order to cover my course/living/misc costs through college.

I do think a separate scholarship (perhaps sourced from ELA funds) could be a great idea and should be provided to students who are learning a trade, especially one that the state is short of workers for. However, for something like graphic design, sorry but you'll have to go into debt just like the rest of the students across our nation.

What really needs to be addressed is the interest rate on student loans. When I can watch someone buy a new car or house for less than half the interest that I'm paying on my student loans, someone's priorities are wrong.

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Posted by Garrett Giorno on October 3, 2012 at 2:43 PM

and received*

Posted by Garrett Giorno on October 3, 2012 at 2:43 PM

The government shouldn't subsidize education at all. It's inflationary to the degrees themselves, and further, it creates artificial demand, and thus, higher tuition at the expense of the middle class.

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Posted by Jarryd Ashby on October 3, 2012 at 3:15 PM

This is not a racial issue, this is an economic issue. As member of the 47% who DO pay federal income tax, I feel my federal tax dollars that go to support Pell grant--designed to pay tuition AND other expenses--are being diverted by the SC Lottery Tuition program that requires ALL tuition to come first from Pell. That is why the petition is written in such a way that still requires half to go first to tuition. This would result in students who are on Pell receiving less Lottery funding than students who are self paying because that money was supposed to be used for tuition among other things.

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Posted by Kathi Reimer Regalbuto on October 3, 2012 at 3:17 PM

Mr Giorno, I completely agree w/ you on the question of student loan debt (and the interest rates are only the tip of the iceberg). It was while working on the student loan debt issue that we became aware of this additional issue. If you are interested in following along w/ what we are talking about on Student loans, please join in the conversation here… Our activism of late has been focused on the pell/lottery issue but it is just one piece of the pie.

I think perhaps you are not aware that there apparently IS a demand for commercial graphics design in our area (I know I was not). One of the laws for Trident and other SC technical colleges is that a high percentage of their graduates become employed in the field for which they have trained--otherwise the program is no longer offered even if they have student interest. The fact that I personally didn't know any people professionally employed as graphic designers until quite recently is irrelevant.

report 2 of 2 people like this.   
Posted by Kathi Reimer Regalbuto on October 3, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Mr Ashby are you truly suggesting that public schools should be abolished?

Do you realize that a large part of the reason tuition has sky-rocketed at public colleges and universities is because the state and federal governments have cut back on their funding of those institutions?

report 2 of 2 people like this.   
Posted by Kathi Reimer Regalbuto on October 3, 2012 at 3:35 PM

Sorry, Kathi. I misspoke. I meant to say "should not subsidize people going to university at all." Funding to those institutions isn't the point. The notion that "everyone should be able to go to college" and all that nonsense and all the scholarships, particularly ones that have no merit base to them, and ones that have ANY condition that isn't merit, creates artificial demand, and since everyone has a degree, the degree becomes more and more worthless.

And considering how much everyone gripes about how much publics schools suck, I wouldn't be entirely opposed to it.

report 2 of 4 people like this.   
Posted by Jarryd Ashby on October 3, 2012 at 4:32 PM

Call it character assassination, call it racism or hatred, call it whatever you need to to in your futile attempt to win an argument that neither based in logic or reality. I'm bringing to light what the article didn't. I'm giving you facts that the average reader doesn't know. Robert Jenkins is not a young, quirkey guy who is being shafted by the system. He is a middle aged man who is complaining because hes not receiving additional funds on top of his already paid for tuition.

This has nothing to do with racism or class warfare. The article states that his tuition is 1,930.12, and hes covered up to $2,100 in Pell grants. The Tuition Assistance can only be spent on tuition, something that's paid for in full for him already. It is not intended for living expenses, such as transportation, laptops and software. Anyone should know that a graphic design school of any caliber will provide computer labs with the necessary software needed to complete the course. Furthermore there are student licenses available for Adobe for 1/3rd of the retail cost. If he needs further living expenses he can take a student loan from Sally Mae like hundreds of thousands of students already do and be expected to pay it back.

@ William J Hammilton:
Isn't time you stopped using a picture from when you were in collage? And how would you know what Robert did and did not ask for from occupy? You were banned from the general assemblies after about 3 weeks from the occupation. I'd call you an ambulance chaser, but I'm sure the CARTA drivers don't allow that. You literally live in a reality that spreads no further than 2 feet in front of your nose. How you feel entitled to any respect, clout, or heed is absolutely beyond me. Keep your fire and brimstone to yourself. You clearly have no idea what your talking about.

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Posted by GuineaPirate on October 3, 2012 at 4:47 PM

I disagree on cutting government funding to public schools. This is coming from a taxpayer who homeschooled her own children due to the "minimally adequate education" required by the SC constitution and has supported (by vote and by activism) every school bond referendum in my district.

I also believe that the 2 year colleges full an important niche in today's job market, the vast majority of jobs available require training beyond high school and less than a 4 year degree.

report 1 of 1 people like this.   
Posted by Kathi Reimer Regalbuto on October 3, 2012 at 5:02 PM

Mr Mundy in case you are keeping score, I am adding ageist, able-ist and transportation-ist to my descriptors of you. I only remember coming in contact w/ you twice in real life and both times enjoyed your enthusiasm and dry sense of humor but it seems to have an underlying sense of disdain for those whose background differs from your own.

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Posted by Kathi Reimer Regalbuto on October 3, 2012 at 6:57 PM

Kathi, please... Call me Nat

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Posted by GuineaPirate on October 3, 2012 at 8:05 PM
Posted by mat catastrophe on October 3, 2012 at 9:05 PM
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