Policymakers | Costs

SC governor wants to fund colleges based on merit

She wants job placements, graduation rates to be criteria
THE STATE   |  October 11, 2012 by Andrew Shain

South Carolina should fund its colleges with a merit system that rewards schools for their graduation rates and job placements, Gov. Nikki Haley told a gathering of political, academic and business leaders Wednesday.

“Colleges will not get everything they want,” Haley he said at a higher education conference that she called to encourage the colleges to better prepare students for the work force. “They will get what they earn.”

Haley wants the Legislature to get away from its standard funding formulas that have given the schools the same percentages of state money year after year.

The University of South Carolina gets about 24 percent of public school funding while Clemson gets about 15 percent and S.C. State collects about 3 percent, according an analysis of S.C. Commission on Higher Education data.

But Anne Neal, president of Washington-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni, told the conference an analysis by her group found an “arms race” among South Carolina’s 13 public colleges.

“It’s ‘How can we poach some students from there? How can we make certain that we offer everything here at our institution even though they offer it down the street?'” Neal said. “There is a real challenge of trying to figure out the roles and defined missions of institutions…when resources are limited.”

Neal said the council found that about a third of the bachelor’s degree majors—of the 450—at the state’s public schools have fewer than 10 graduates, while more than half of master’s degree programs—of 256—had fewer than 10 graduates.

State Rep. Chip Limehouse, the Charleston Republican who chairs the S.C. House higher education budget subcommittee, said he would favor creating a board of regents or strengthening the higher education commission to coordinate programs and end duplication.

“That would be the best thing to happen to higher education in South Carolina since the invention of the computer,” he said.

Presidents Harris Pastides of USC and Fred Carter of Francis Marion said the state’s public colleges are coordinating better than ever. For example, the schools are working together on health-care-related programs in the Pee Dee.

Lawmakers said colleges should not to expect more cash from the state, citing pending health-care costs. “I’m not Santa Claus today,” said House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson.

Colleges need look at trading their buildings for lower-cost online classes, such as USC’s new Palmetto College, which will allow students at the system’s two-year colleges to take online classes to earn bachelor’s degrees, White said.

Pastides said schools are looking for other ways to offer more flexibility for students. USC plans to start offering a full summer semester next year, allowing a student to get the same average number of colleges credits as during the fall and spring semesters.

In return, Pastides plans to ask lawmakers to allow students to use scholarships paid with lottery money during the summer semester. Those scholarships now can be used only for fall and spring semesters.

College presidents also said they want curbs on the state process that slows approval of new projects. “If you want us to run like FedEx, don’t treat us like the post office,” Carter said.


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