Governor Mark Sanford’s summit on higher education drew a packed crowd to a Midlands Technical College auditorium in West Columbia Tuesday.
Governor Sanford opened the discussion, saying that state government faces a $1 billion dollar shortfall next year.
Sanford told participants that the state must “come up with an answer other than raising tuition on working South Carolinians, or we will price higher education out of range for most people in the state.”
I think the solution is moving to a more rational system. That’s why we’ve had proposals to close down some campuses. There is duplication of two-year schools versus the technical system. Our system is a free-for-all. You have tech schools trying to be two-year colleges, two-year colleges trying to be four-year colleges, four-year colleges trying to be research universities and research universities trying to be a Department of Commerce.
One of the governor’s guest speakers, Policy Director of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni Michael Poliakoff, said there is a new model of education during this tight economy. Poliakoff said colleges and universities across the nation are cutting back and suspending construction projects now. He says spending on capital projects is an issue and he mentioned the University of South Carolina as an example.
The governor’s figures indicated that state funding for higher education is among the highest when compared to other Southeastern states. But representatives of college and university administration argued that their figures did not show that, and that South Carolina’s higher education funding is near the bottom, listed as 15th out of the 16 Southeastern states. Sanford said his figures considered funds that included scholarship assistance from the lottery.
Executive Director of the South Carolina Higher Education Commission Garrison Walters was among the key speakers. Walters said his statistics, from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, are not as positive as the other statistics because, like the figures from other states, they don’t include state-authorized funding.
Walters said the higher tuition charged to out-of-state students lowers tuition for in-state students.
Walters said considering state funding and the funding generated by tuition combined, South Carolina colleges and universities have experienced a loss in spending per student over the last five years, which ranks it lower than almost all other states.
Walters said tuition increases are due to lower state funding and the higher salaries demanded for college and university professors and leadership. While he said the state funding for higher education in South Carolina has historically been low, he added that the state has done a good job at providing students with scholarship money.
Walters talked about a need for a better-educated workforce.
We now have a shift to a knowledge economy. What companies are saying is, “What we need now are people with highly technical skills and we aren’t getting them.”
University of South Carolina Vice President for Finance and Planning William Moore said higher education in the United States began serving the public good after World War II with the G.I. Bill that sent former solders to college. But he said the “public good” model could change.
Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education Board Ken Wingate received a massive applause from the audience when he defended the position of higher education institutions and said it’s time to stop beating up on the universities.
Union Representative Mike Anthony said “The construction at colleges is good for competition with other states, and what bothers me (about Governor Sanford’s position against university construction) is I know the governor is big on that.”