Remarks to the House Ways & Means Higher Education Subcommittee, January 23, 2019
Good afternoon, Chairman Simrill, Ms. Cobb-Hunter, and Mr. Finlay.
I would like to introduce: Mr. Hugh Mobley of Lancaster, the Vice Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Mr. William Hubbard of Columbia, Mr. Thad Westbrook of Lexington, as well as our Board Secretary, J. Cantey Heath, Jr.; USC Columbia Student Body President Taylor Wright of Goose Creek; Chancellors: Dr. Sandra Jordan – USC Aiken, Dr. Al Panu – USC Beaufort, Dr. Brendan Kelly – USC Upstate, Dr. Susan Elkins – Palmetto College; Campus Deans: Dr. Walt Collins – USC Lancaster, Dr. Chris Nesmith – USC Salkehatchie, Dr. Michael Sonntag – USC Sumter, Dr. John Catalano – USC Union, and senior members of my administration, some of whom you will hear from later. These are the great people who serve our students and our state day in and day out.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for your introductory comments. I would like to echo your sentiment.
I would also like to thank you and the General Assembly for last year’s budget allocation. It was the largest increase in state support in recent years and we are grateful. We also appreciate Governor McMaster recognizing UofSC and higher education as a significant priority in the executive budget – the first time that has happened in years. Rest assured, we share a common goal with him, you, and most importantly, our students…and that is greater access and affordability for South Carolinians. We look forward to working closely with the Governor, CHE Chairman Wes Hayes and you on that important goal as the budget process moves forward.
Mr. Chairman, it’s been an exciting decade for me as President of our state’s flagship university, and, in many ways, my 11th year is the most gratifying.
This year’s freshman class in Columbia is the largest and most academically talented class in our history. After receiving 30,000 applications, we welcomed 5,850 freshman this fall, up nearly 30% since 2008; applications are also up over 70% across the last decade. Across our system, the student body has grown to over 51,000, up 25% since 2008, and we have enrolled more South Carolinians and underrepresented students each year.
We are the state’s leader in both areas; our enrollment is up 7% over last year among South Carolinians, and is up 20% this year and 43% over the last two years among African Americans. We’re among the Top 3% of universities in the United States for graduating African-American students. But as important as admitting them is, I am equally proud of how we help them to graduate. We’ve increased the six-year graduation rate for these students to 75% since 2008, which is more than twice the national average of 35%. And, this fall, we were honored with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for a seventh consecutive year – one of only five institutions nationally to achieve this distinction that number of times.
Our Honor’s College was again recognized as the “Nation’s Best,” and among our 47 nationally ranked programs, our undergraduate and graduate business and sports science programs are recognized as No. 1. Our nursing program consistently ranks in the Top 5 nationally, and this past May, 100% of our graduating class of nursing students passed the NCLEX Licensure exam on the first try – the first time ever. And with every graduating class, we’re helping to fill the more than 60K nurses needed in our state by 2030. In fact, our UofSC system graduates more nurses than any other college in South Carolina.
Research funding is up for a fifth consecutive year to a record $258M, and our University endowment continues to grow, and has nearly doubled since 2008. We continue to drive innovative and dynamic public-private partnerships with Fortune 100 companies, and technology startups, like Boeing, Samsung and Siemens, organizations with ideas that capture the imagination and are changing the world. Not surprisingly, we are ranked among the Top 1% of patent-producing universities in the world.
And in the past year, we’ve been recognized as #67 on Forbes’ 2018 list of America’s Best Employers – No. 2 among flagship universities nationally and No. 1 in South Carolina as the best place to work.
Through all this work, we are increasing and leveraging the efficiency, effectiveness and collective strength of our 8 campuses and 20 locations – including our newest addition, in Hilton Head, which opened this fall. It’s this collective strength which is helping to meet the needs of our state for highly educated, in-demand and employable graduates in high-need areas. Not to mention, we also drive 1 in 35 jobs statewide and an overall $5.5 billion economic impact.
We look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, as well as business and industry leaders, to meet the demand for an additional 70,000 additional baccalaureate degree holders above current graduation rates that our state will need by 2030. As our state’s largest education provider, we are the key driver to our state’s economic future. And you can count on our UofSC system to meet this opportunity.
Mr. Chairman, as you have been saying, in order to truly unlock a future worthy of our state’s citizens, we need to advance our shared commitment. I can assure you that we continue to do everything we can to avoid raising tuition, and I am pleased to report that the average student debt, upon graduation at UofSC, is far lower than both the national and the statewide average that approaches $40K.
At our Columbia campus alone, half of our undergraduates graduate debt free.
We’ve achieved this success through programs like “On Your Time” which stresses the importance of graduating in four years or less, and provides important savings to students and families. In fact, over the last 10 years, we’ve more than doubled the number of students graduating within 8 semesters, and more specifically, students graduating in just three years is up 169%. They have gotten a jump on career and life. To this end, we’ve rapidly increased the number of “On Your Time” course offerings, launched innovative three-year degree plans, and “plus one” masters programs that will streamline the time to get a bachelor's and a graduate degree.
We also continue to emphasize the importance of not changing academic majors. The average undergrad changes majors 3+ times, which often prolongs graduation and cost. We’re also encouraging dual-enrollment credit hours, which have more than doubled over the last five years across our Palmetto College campuses, saving South Carolina families nearly $50 million in tuition costs. Last fall, we established 3+2 programs with Claflin and South Carolina State to provide important pathways for students to achieve dual-bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields.
This follows a cooperation agreement with Midlands Tech to transfer into our BSE programs in Chemical, Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering, as well as an earlier agreement to transfer into bachelor degree programs in early childhood, elementary, or middle-level education through our College of Education. Not to mention, in 2013, we created the most affordable bachelor's degree in the state, by giving our students the option to attend one of our regional campuses or another two-year option, and then finish their degree online through Palmetto College.
These latest collaborations build upon our established commitment to innovative pathways and scholarships, such as University of Possibilities, Gamecock Guarantee, and Opportunity Scholars to support first generation and low-income students. In these ways and others, we’ve tightened our belts and innovated to achieve greater savings for South Carolina’s students and families.
But again, we need to advance our shared commitment. Because with it, I believe, South Carolina can have the most cost-efficient and cost-effective higher education sector in the country. In this spirit, I am proud to note that I am more hopeful than I have been in a long while that the stars may be aligned.
If I may, let me take a moment to mention legislation that is advancing in the Senate, and that I believe will complement the Governor’s budget and the work of your committee.
The Higher Education Opportunity Act portends as a game-changer – renewing the partnership between public colleges and universities and the state. The bill would establish something that has never before existed in our state: a dedicated and permanent source of funding for higher education – all without raising taxes.
Mr. Chairman, the HEOA, like this committee, recognizes that there is a connection between state support and tuition prices. In fact, had the HEOA been in place over the last decade, even the most conservative calculations indicate that tuition would have risen almost 40% slower than it otherwise did during that period of deep state funding cuts. The HEOA can’t erase the past, but what it will do is capture these substantial savings – and more – for our students today and of tomorrow.
We can do no less for our public colleges and universities – and we can do no less for the students of South Carolina.
The bill also serves three other critical areas. First, it would modernize the state’s scholarship offerings by ensuring the sustainability of current merit-based scholarship programs, while focusing more state resources on assisting students with financial need.
Second, similar to provisions within the Higher Education Efficiency Act, that your Chamber, the House, passed overwhelmingly last year…thank you….would also reduce duplicative bureaucratic regulation, which would markedly help reduce costs driven up by layers of red tape.
Lastly, it would establish funding dedicated entirely to repairing our public colleges’ aging and crumbling campus facilities, infrastructure and equipment.
Just a quick, but important, note on this last point – and it’s a point you have been making Ms. Cobb-Hunter. Prior to 2000, our state regularly passed capital bond bills to ensure that our college and university facilities were modern, safe and comparable to those of our peers in other states. However, since 2001, while our neighboring states have invested billions of dollars in college and university facilities - our state government has largely stood on the sidelines.
In fact, since the last time South Carolina passed a capital improvement bond bill for Higher Education, almost two decades ago, 11 Southeastern States have passed at least 1, with 7 having passed one in the last 3 years. North Carolina, in particular, has authorized more than $4.4 billion in capital improvement bonds for Higher Education since 2000. All of this while our state’s deferred maintenance totals on our college campuses reach north of $2B. This trend is not sustainable, and our peer states and institutions are taking advantage of our inaction.
And there are so many reasons to enact bond support for higher education right now. It’s financially prudent, protects the state’s AAA credit rating, does not raise taxes on our state’s residents and requires no additional general fund appropriations. Approving bond support now would also mean South Carolina could take advantage of borrowing rates that are near historic lows, as well as a positive construction bid climate, without passing those costs onto students and their families.
We need to ask ourselves: how can we compete to not only retain our state’s best and brightest students, but recruit top students and world-class faculty from across the nation if our facilities are falling apart?
Our non-recurring budget request this year towards a new School of Medicine in Columbia speaks to this central question, as this facility will replace aging facilities that will limit our ability to attract and serve future students and the healthcare needs of our state.
I would like to thank you for the $5M provided for the medical school in last year’s budget…I believe that shows you already agree with the need for this important project and I look forward to working with you to invest in this critical state need again this year. And across our system, facility renovations and upgrades – from the Gregg-Graniteville Library at Aiken or the Smith Science Building at Upstate – or a new facility at the USC Beaufort Campus, speak to the need for reliable and appreciable capital funding. These FY20 non-recurring budgets requests are necessary to not only match the growth of our institutions, but to maintain our competiveness.
As I close, let me briefly remind the committee of our System’s primary recurring appropriation request, which follows the spirit of the HEAO by calling for: A modest increase in recurring funding of 6.4% for FY2020, which is equivalent to early projections of growth in state revenue next year.
But again, we need to advance our shared commitment. Because with it, I believe, South Carolina can have the most cost-efficient and cost-effective higher education sector in the country.
I’d like to note here that the Governor’s budget funds almost 95% of this request, and we look forward to working with you on improving that if we can.
These funds, across our comprehensive four-year and Palmetto College campuses, just like our Columbia campus, will be used to help offset inflationary increases and the cost of state mandated funding requirements—health insurance, pension and possible cost of living increases – all with an aim that I know you share – maintaining our System’s world class education while passing on as little of the costs necessary to maintain that quality to our students and their families as possible.
Mr. Chairman, our overall budget request, when coupled with your efforts, and the thoughtful and long-term reforms contemplated under the HEOA, will work in concert to advance access, affordability and excellence in public higher education across South Carolina.
We can do no less for our public colleges and universities – and we can do no less for the students of South Carolina.