For decades, South Carolina ranked below the national averages in most phases of education, including expenditures per pupil, median years of school completed, teachers' salaries, and literacy levels. During the 1970s, however, significant improvements were made through the adoption of five-year achievement goals, enactment of a statewide educational funding plan, provision of special programs for exceptional children and of kindergartens for all children, measurement of students' achievements at various stages, and expansion of adult education programs. As a result, South Carolina high school graduates now score only slightly lower than the national averages on standardized examinations. South Carolina's educational funding is higher in relation to per capita income than that of most other states. As of 2000, 76.3% of all residents 25 years or older had completed high school, and 20.4% had attended four or more years of college.
The total enrollment for fall 1999 in South Carolina's public schools stood at 666,780. Of these, 483,725 attended schools from kindergarten through grade eight, and 136,055 attended high school. Minority students made up approximately 45% of the total enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools. Total enrollment was estimated at 647,000 in fall 2000 and is expected to drop to 635,000 by fall 2005. Expenditures for public education in 2000/01 were estimated at $4,263,599. Enrollment in nonpublic schools in fall 2001 was 55,612.
As of fall 2000, there were 178,529 students enrolled in college or graduate school. In the same year South Carolina had 62 degree-granting institutions. The state has three major universities: the University of South Carolina, with its main campus in Columbia; Clemson University, at Clemson; and the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. In addition, there are four-year state colleges, as well as four-year and two-year branches of the University of South Carolina. The state also has 23 four-year private colleges and universities; most are church-affiliated. The Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia is the only major private graduate institution. There are 6 private junior colleges. South Carolina has an extensive technical education system, supported by both state and local funds. In 1997, minority students comprised 26.9% of total postsecondary enrollment. Tuition grants are offered for needy South Carolina students enrolled in private colleges in the state.