Report: S.C. Higher Ed System Failing Taxpayers

Thursday, November 10, 2011 – Today the South Carolina Policy Council, in conjunction with the Washington D.C.-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni, released a study concluding that the state’s public higher education institutions are not serving the interests of taxpayers or students. The report, titled Prepared in Mind and Resources?, is the result of an in-depth look at the financial practices, curricula, and governance of eight state-supported institutions. (It’s attached and available here.) Among the report’s findings:

• South Carolina’s higher education system lacks a coordinated system of governance. Each institution is governed by its own largely autonomous board. The result is that institutions compete against each other for state resources rather than serving the interests of the state as a whole.

• In just the last six years, in-state tuition and fees increased by 18 to 36 percent.

• Over the same time period, the proportion of these institutions’ budgets devoted to administration tended to increase, while funding dedicated to classroom instruction tended to lag behind.

• The core curricula offered by the state’s colleges are severely lacking – jeopardizing students’ long-term career prospects. For example, several campuses require no coursework in economics or U.S. history.

“South Carolina state government has long been crippled by an absence of accountability,” says SCPC President Ashley Landess. “Many state agencies do what they want to do, with little or no oversight. That’s true of the state’s public colleges and universities, too. The consequence, as this report documents in detail, is that South Carolina’s taxpayers are being priced out of the market for higher education even though the quality of that education is deteriorating.”

“This report confirms what many of us have been saying for a long time about our state’s colleges and universities,” says state Representative Murrell Smith of Sumter. “Right now, we don’t have a coordinated plan to deliver quality higher education to the entire state. Instead we have a chaotic system in which colleges compete against each other to see who can get the better face-lift – with more and more spending on unnecessary new buildings, paid for with tuition hikes. We need a statewide Board of Regents – now.”

“For the last decade, we’ve seen South Carolinians’ incomes either stagnate or fall – and yet college tuition continues to increase dramatically,” says Jeff Schilz, a Board of Trustee member at the College of Charleston. “This report’s superb research confirms that, when you look closer at the numbers, these tuition hikes aren’t going to classroom expenditures but largely to administrative growth. Some calls for increased funding may be justified, but far more critical is a comprehensive look at how dollars are actually spent in our state’s taxpayer-funded colleges and universities. Above all, we need a single governing body to enforce better coordination across the state’s higher education system, and that board should have the authority to keep both tuition increases and expenditures under control.”

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