Pass bond bill to invest in S.C. students, economy

Editorial by President Harris Pastides, Dr. James Clements, president of Clemson University, and Dr. David Cole, president of the Medical University of South Carolina, published May 10, 2015, in The State

The capital bond bill being debated in the state Senate will translate into more educational opportunities for our young people, drive research innovations and generate a well-prepared workforce for our businesses and industries.

The economic health of our state starts with our willingness to invest in the education and infrastructure required to build a competitive workforce for the future. But the reality is that public investment in higher education in South Carolina has been dramatically reduced since the recession of 2008 and in real dollars is less than that provided in the early 1970s.

We are competing every day to attract and produce the educated minds demanded by a high-tech economy that is actively seeking South Carolina.

We know that by 2030 we will need 70,000 additional baccalaureate degree holders to fill jobs in our state. These jobs are critical to our economy. They’re the engineers, computer scientists, data analysts and accountants who attract and keep major corporations. They’re the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and dentists who care for our citizens (competingthroughknowledge.org). If we are complacent and do not rise to meet this challenge, we will miss perhaps the most meaningful opportunity in generations to improve the lives of our citizens.

It is time for South Carolina to re-engage and demonstrate our commitment to higher education through public investment.

In order to meet that target and boost our economy, our research universities, comprehensive colleges, two-year colleges and technical colleges must continue to grow strategically. We need to have the continued ability to, keep our best and brightest students in-state, and attract outstanding talent from diverse backgrounds nationwide and around the world. We can only do that by keeping higher education affordable. It is time for South Carolina to re-engage and demonstrate our commitment to higher education through public investment.

The competition is strong — and increasing. The governor of North Carolina has announced his support for a $3 billion bond bill, which includes more than $700 million for higher education. Georgia’s legislature is debating a $300 million bond bill for higher education. Clearly, other states are taking advantage of the current economic climate to prepare for the next 20, 30 or 50 years. South Carolina must do the same.

One way to help make sure colleges and universities are able to accomplish this is through public investment in our state’s educational infrastructure and facilities. Right now, the Senate is debating a capital bond bill that would do just that. It will allow every public campus in our state to begin to chip away at the backlog of maintenance and renovation projects we have deferred as our budgets suffered, and give them the opportunity to address their highest-priority needs for classrooms, laboratories and academic support facilities.

A dollar spent on education is not a cost, but a very real investment in our future. A careful examination of the current successes of our colleges would strongly support the premise that this partnership between the state and higher education has yielded and will continue to yield a high return on investment for generations to come.

This legislation is long overdue — before the last bond issue, in 2001, the Legislature issued capital-improvement bonds about every other year. It offers South Carolina the opportunity to renew our commitment to higher education with no increase in taxes or fees, because it can be serviced with existing state resources — with no increase in the state’s overall debt-service payments. And it would take advantage of South Carolina’s AAA credit rating, which means an even lower borrowing cost for our state at a time when borrowing costs are at an all-time low.

Indeed, this bill represents the best chance at significant new public investment in higher education in years. It is not a credit card purchase but more akin to a 15-year mortgage, an investment in the future. Please join us in supporting the bond bill and renewing our public commitment to an educated, innovative workforce ready to tackle problems and bring about tomorrow’s economic prosperity.

Dr. Clements is president of Clemson University, Dr. Cole is president of the Medical University of South Carolina, and Dr. Pastides is president of the University of South Carolina. Contact them at president@clemson.edu, president-com@musc.edu and president@sc.edu.