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

Editorial by President Pastides and Tim Hardee, executive director of the S.C. Technical College System, published April 25, 2017, in The Post and Courier, supporting the capital improvement bond bill as an investment in education. 


 

As another session of the General Assembly soon draws to a close, it’s worth noting that for the first time in many years the state’s colleges and universities are unified in making a single piece of legislation a top priority — the capital improvement bond bill for higher education (House Bill 3722). Although we may serve different student populations, all institutions of higher learning — from two-year technical colleges to research universities — recognize that our campuses are part of South Carolina’s critical infrastructure and need capital improvements. 

Recently, leaders from campuses across the state sent a letter to Gov. Henry McMaster urging him to support the legislative momentum in the House and Senate for a bond bill. We pointed out that the last bond bill was passed 16 years ago, and many labs and classrooms across the state are now in desperate need of repair and renovation. In fact, nearly 70 percent of our state’s facilities are 25 or more years old, and a third are 50 or more years old.

Although we may serve different student populations, all institutions of higher learning — from two-year technical colleges to research universities — recognize that our campuses are part of South Carolina’s critical infrastructure and need capital improvements. 

Investing in infrastructure for higher education was not a novel concept prior to 2001, when bond bills were routinely approved by lawmakers to extend the useful life of many of our core academic facilities. What’s changed since then? For one thing, neighboring states have invested billions of dollars in college and university facilities while we have not. This matters because retaining students here in South Carolina is dependent on our ability to meet their educational needs in modern, safe facilities that are comparable to those of our competitors in other states.

For the University of South Carolina, the bond bill would finance the conversion of the old law school into needed lab space for a growing student population. At the state’s 16 technical colleges, it would help renovate existing buildings and labs specifically designed to prepare a skilled and ready workforce for the state’s existing and prospective business and industry. Other campuses included in the proposal have similar projects, but all are intended to help colleges and universities across the South Carolina better educate the critical thinkers needed to grow the state’s economy.

Approving a bond bill for higher education this year also means South Carolina can take advantage of borrowing rates that are near historic lows, so it’s financially prudent. Like buying a home, capital improvement projects are investments that have a long and useful life, so their cost is spread out over many years. The alternative is to have students and families bear the brunt of these costs at a time when dwindling state support for colleges has already placed an increased financial burden on them.

Other campuses included in the proposal have similar projects, but all are intended to help colleges and universities across the South Carolina better educate the critical thinkers needed to grow the state’s economy.

Critics of the higher education system have complained that we too often compete against one another. While that may be true in the athletic arena, we are resolute in urging the General Assembly and the governor to begin investing in higher education infrastructure. It is just one of the ways we are working in tandem to deliver a high-quality, affordable college education to all South Carolina students who wish to build a better future.

Harris Pastides is president of the University of South Carolina. Tim Hardee is executive director of the S.C. Technical College System.