South Carolina is Considering Drastic Action to Cut College Funding

February 11th 2015

Mike Vainisi

Another day, another story about a state de-funding higher education. This time it's South Carolina -- where the South Carolina House of Representatives has recommended that South Carolina State -- the state's only historically black college -- close for two years in order to get its financial house in order. 

Saying the college needs a "clean slate," legislators recommend firing the college's employees, board of trustees, and administrators and reopening in 2017, according to South Carolina newspaper The State. Students who maintain a 2.5 GPA would be eligible for state-funded scholarships to go to other public colleges or other historically black schools.

“We are looking at a bankrupt institution,” said state Rep. Jim Merrill, who chairs the committee making this recommendation, told The State. “No one takes any pleasure in recommending this.”

That said,The State says the proposal is a "long shot" to actually pass the legislature. The South Carolina Senate has a plan to bail out the school with a $12 million cash infusion. The school received a loan last year for $6 million.

South Carolina State's president Thomas Elezy was defiant today, saying that the school would not close.

"I want to make one thing clear. SC State will not close," Elezy said in a statement. "I did not come to this university to serve as its president or for us to fail, and our board has made the same commitment."

The college has asked for $50 million more in funding from the state. Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is against more funding until the college has a better financial plan.

This is a nationwide trend.

While the situations facing each state vary, there is one constant: states are cutting funding for higher education.

State funding of public universities has been trending downward for decades because when state governments experience fiscal shortfalls, colleges are usually first on the chopping block. The decline in government funding usually results in higher tuition, as university administrators seek to recoup the money from the next immediately available source.

The problem, though, is that these cuts are never temporary. When the fiscal crisis ends and the budget becomes balanced, the cuts to state funding have usually not been restored; instead, the reduced levels of funding become the new baseline. And the next time there’s a budget crunch, the cycle repeats all over again. It works like a ratchet: funding can go down very easily, but good luck getting it to go back where it was.

South Carolina follows on the heels of Wisconsin -- where Gov. Scott Walker has proposed cutting $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System -- and Kansas -- where Gov. Sam Brownback announced $45 million in cuts.

The solution? Voting.

Until voters demand that state legislators prioritize higher education funding, colleges will continue to lose revenue from states, and they will do what they always do to make up the difference: raise tuition. The best way to make your demands heard? Vote for politicians who won't cut college funding.