Higher education funding in S.C., by the numbers


For once, let’s start off with some numbers and dates:

· 17 percent – the amount of the University of South Carolina’s funding that now comes from state appropriations. Our state’s major research universities now get less than a fifth of their funding from state appropriations. In recent years, those in the know have stopped calling them “state institutions” and started calling them “state-assisted.” We’ve now reached the point at which even that seems like an overstatement.

· 1st – South Carolina’s ranking in percentage of higher education funding cut last year. South Carolina, before the December and March reductions, had cut 17.7 percent from higher education budgets. (After those cuts, it has slashed higher ed budgets 24 percent.) The second worst state was Alabama, at 10.5 percent.

· 38th – Our state’s ranking for higher ed funding before the past year’s nation-leading cuts.

· 1995 – The last year that state appropriations, as a dollar amount, equaled the current level, before adjusting for inflation.

· 1973 – The year that matches the current level of funding, once you adjust for inflation. (Think for a moment what North Carolina and Georgia have done in higher education since 1973, pulling light years ahead of South Carolina.)

· $29 million – The value of one grant (from the National Institutes of Health) brought in by a single one of the 13 endowed chair holders at the Medical University of South Carolina.

· 25 – New technology companies started by USC faculty in the years since the endowed chairs program started, which places the university 19th among public institutions in the nation in number of start-ups.

· 50,000 – S.C. jobs provided directly or indirectly by USC.

· 11 percent – South Carolina unemployment rate in February.

· 43rd – South Carolina’s national ranking for percentage of adult population with college educations.

Those are a few of the figures I picked up from the presentations that Clemson President James Barker, Medical University of South Carolina President Ray Greenberg and USC President Harris Pastides (joined by Garrison Walters, executive director of the state Commission on Higher Education) made to a joint meeting Wednesday of two Senate panels that deal with higher education funding, such as it is.

They were there to try to stop the bleeding, and to send the message that dealing a further blow to these institutions’ already last-in-the-nation funding by not accepting federal stimulus funds would be beyond insane (my wording, I hope you’ll note, not theirs).

In some cases, they had requests that bore specifically upon their respective institutions. For instance, Dr. Greenberg’s wish listed included a request that if tuition is capped, graduate and professional programs will be exempted. But in keeping with the extraordinary collaboration that has marked the interaction of the three presidents in recent years (which is no less than miraculous, given the petty, wasteful, tit-for-tat competition that characterized the decades that went before), he also cited priorities shared by all: Regulatory relief (which President Barker has explained as minimizing cost by requiring the schools to jump through two or three hoops instead of six every time they make a move); a state bond bill for capital needs; and passing the cigarette tax increase, with a major portion of the revenue going to Medicaid. OK, so maybe that last one has the most immediate effect on the medical university, but its benefits to the entire state are so obvious as to absolve it of parochialism.

And they had a sympathetic audience. “You’re number one in the country,” in budget cuts, Sen. Nikki Setzler noted. “If that isn’t a challenge to this committee to carry forward to the full General Assembly, then shame on us.”

Of course, Sen. Setzler is a Democrat, but that doesn’t count for as much of a difference in the S.C. Senate as it does in some venues. And when it comes to the federal stimulus upon which the GOP leadership is completely dependent for keeping essential state services running, there are only two sides – on one is Gov. Mark Sanford and a few allies to whom ideology is the only reality; on the other the vast majority of lawmakers.

Republicans don’t come more conventionally conservative than Senate Education Chairman John Courson, to whom Ronald Reagan was a demigod. And here’s what he had to say about the stimulus: “If we don’t accept that money, it does not go back to the Treasury; it goes to other states.” Which is just common sense, of course – nothing ideological about it. But this is a moment in South Carolina history when commonsense statements are in pathetically short supply, so every one uttered takes on added value. In an interview later, Sen. Courson explained the rationale adopted by most Republicans whose top priority is not posturing for national media: He opposed the stimulus bill when it was being debated in Washington. There’s a lot in it he doesn’t like; if he had been a member of Congress he would have voted against it. But that’s all over now. It’s a fact, and South Carolinians are going to be paying for it along with everyone else. Therefore, not taking the money makes no sense at all.

Tuition cost was on the senators’ minds, and well it should be, now that the bulk of higher education costs is on students and their families rather than state taxpayers. “I am pledging to keep any tuition increase for next year to a minimum,” said Dr. Pastides. “I’m keenly aware of the burden that a tuition increase would put on students and their families.”

But what happens with tuition depends upon the General Assembly’s actions – and the governor’s. “Will tuition and fees increase next year?” President Barker asked rhetorically. “The answer is: Almost certainly, but the level of increase is very dependent on what happens with state funding. Tuition is Clemson’s last-resort response….”

Mr. Barker pointed out that the effect of stimulus money on tuition is not direct, since he, like the other presidents, would use stimulus money for one-time, not recurring, expenses. But when asked by Sen. Harvey Peeler the expected effect upon the institutions of not accepting the stimulus money, the Clemson president said it “would be devastating.”

Other senators, seizing upon that word, asked other witnesses whether they agreed with it, prompting Dr. Pastides to oblige them by saying for the record, “It will be devastating, and it will have an effect on tuition” if the stimulus is blocked.

Normally, I’m not what you’d call a numbers guy; words are my thing. So I appreciate that the senators were groping for just the right word to describe the situation. But in this case, for once, the numbers impress me more. We are so far behind in our state. And if our governor has his way, we’ll take an additional giant leap backward.

This is my first weekly online-only column after leaving The State. Watch for more here on bradwarthen.com.

8 thoughts on “Higher education funding in S.C., by the numbers

  1. Randy E

    Look at the 10 year change appropriations of state tax funds for operating expenses of higher education. All but maybe 3 states had double digit inceases. SC had the LOWEST, at 6%. Ga and NC had 76% and 82% respectively.

    Kudos to Barker for his ambitious plans for making Clemson a top ten public university. He has lead CU to tremendous gains the past few years. I read his vision for Clemson his first year and was greatly impressed.

    The investment in higher ed, like the investment is K-12 and infrastructure, are both cost effective and community effective. The good ol’ boy body politic of SC continues to undermine progress. Where else can the poker machine industry effectively steal from society for years, a miniscule cigarette tax can make SC a cigarette export state, a commitment to a flag by a minority provoke the NCAA to boycott, and a governor take an ivory tower stand against funds for schools built in the 19th Century?

  2. Lee Muller

    Investments are made by investors, who take risks investing their own money in hopes of making a profit.

    Government does not invest. Government spends money.

    Many individuals do take a calculated risk and invest in education for themselves or their children. Sometimes they do not earn enough money to make up for what was a bad investment.

    “Budget cut” is a deceptive term intended to give the appearance of frugality. It is not the same as a real reduction in SPENDING.

    6% increases in government spending are too high, when the rate of price inflation is less than 2% and family incomes are increasing only 3%.

  3. Birch Barlow

    Truly ridiculous.

    Thanks for posting these education numbers, Brad Warthen. They should be the biggest condemnation of our state government.

  4. Lee Muller

    Brad, you have been fed a bunch of phony data by Greenberg and others.

    Adjusted for inflation, tuition and other costs for students is 3 times as high today as it was in 1973. I already posted the numbers, and even Randy E agreed and posted a link confirming mine from the educrats. See the Sorensen thread below.

  5. Randy E

    Lee, Brad’s data doesn’t contradict but actually complements the point you made with your statistics. You offered a perspective of the cost of college relative to minimum wage – the fact it appears that tuition has greatly outpaced this wage. Brad’s point is how poorly SC has funded higher ed. Given how inadequate this funding has been, it’s no wonder that tuition has shot up. If the state doesn’t provide for the colleges, the money has to come from somewhere.

    But, your point about government taking care of the little guy is valid and I applaud your populism and attempt to prescribe socialism to address this.

    Also, I’m delighted that you are citing me as a source of confirmation. In effect, you give credence to the points I am making, which is sure to sway many on this blog.

  6. Lee Muller

    No one cites you as a “source of information”, Randy.
    I did note your honesty in posting the sources you believe, educrats, who backed up my claim of runaway college costs.

    The minimum wage is irrelevant, because actual starting wages, even in the lowest-wage areas, are still $1.50 an hour above the legal minimum.

    The problem is government spending, tuition costs, and taxes outpacing the incomes of working people.

    A student in 1970 could earn enough money in the summer to pay for two semesters at USC or Clemson. Today, he has to work 38 weeks. The solution is for USC and Clemson to get better management who will reduce costs back in line with the ability of their customers to pay the bills.

    That might mean more teaching and less bogus research for tenured professors, salary reductions, ending taxpayer and tuition contributions to lavish retirement packages, and downsizing bloated administrative staffs.

  7. Karen McLeod

    Why fund our colleges and universities. After all, we have the “Education Lottery to provide tuition for all. And heaven only knows we don’t want ‘bogus’ research…er, who decides what’s ‘bogus’?

  8. Lee Muller

    Bogus research is fad research, which chases grants, produces nothing, and the researchers did not expect to produce much. They were just bringing in the money for themselves and the Empire. As soon as they milk a fad, they drop it and become big boosters of the Next Great Thing.

    What has USC produced for the $30,000,000 spent so far on the fuel cell fad?

    GM, EverReady, Exxon and other firms with a real economic interest are researching fuel cells and batteries, and they have a legitimate business interest in doing so.

Comments are closed.