General Assembly’s last chance to help college students

This week the General Assembly will return to Columbia to approve the state's budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins less than 30 days from now on July 1. This is the last chance for legislators to stand up for South Carolina's college students and their families before the new year begins. Not with more funding at this late stage, but by reforming an overly burdensome and duplicative bureaucratic process—reform that will save the taxpayers money and allow colleges and universities to better serve their students and the needs of the state. The General Assembly should approve the proviso removing the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) from the approval process of auxiliary, athletics, renovation and maintenance projects.  

No state can thrive without a strong higher education sector; we cannot let ours crumble like we did our roads.  

Relief from overly burdensome bureaucracy is as important for a university as it is for a business in South Carolina. Removing the CHE from this process will eliminate only one step in a multi-step approval process so there will still be significant oversight. First, projects are vetted by boards of trustees that are appointed by the General Assembly to represent their interests and, by extension, those of the taxpayer. Then, they go to the CHE. The next step is the Department of Administration to be routed to the Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) and finally the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA). 

The reality is that schools like USC and other public higher education institutions are no longer state supported; at best they are state assisted. USC only receives about 10 percent of our total budget from state appropriations. 

Both the JBRC and SFAA are boards of elected officials, again, representing the taxpayer. And it may surprise you but of all these groups, the CHE—the one with education in their name—is the least qualified to assess these projects in an unnecessary step that adds time and expense to every project. 

It should also be noted that auxiliary and athletics projects are not even funded by state appropriations or tuition. Funding for these projects comes from private sources in a free market engagement like gifts, the purchase of tickets, television contracts or rent. The reality is that schools like USC and other public higher education institutions are no longer state supported; at best they are state assisted. USC only receives about 10 percent of our total budget from state appropriations. 

The legislative conference committee appointed to write the final version of the budget (Senators Leatherman, Setzler and Bennett along with Representatives White, Stavrinakis and Pitts) recognize this new reality and we should all appreciate their leadership. Their colleagues in the General Assembly should do the same. This would be a significant first step in restoring our state's commitment to higher education. Then next year, let's invest in our economic future through a capital bond bill and end the stagnant funding that has been driving up tuition for students and their families. No state can thrive without a strong higher education sector; we cannot let ours crumble like we did our roads.  

- Harris Pastides