COLUMBIA, S.C. – Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday that South Carolina’s public colleges should be judged on their graduation rates, how many of their students come from outside the state, and their contributions to the economy.
The Republican governor said she has asked college leaders to help develop a new, data-driven way to fund higher education. Their homework over the next month includes providing her office with data on the percentages of students who graduate within six years and get jobs after graduation.
Exactly how colleges’ economic development contributions will be measured has yet to be determined. South Carolina’s 33 publicly supported colleges vary widely in size and mission. They include research universities, other four-year universities, regional two-year campuses and technical colleges.
Colleges won’t be told how many out-of-state students they can accept, for example, but they’ll have to supply the data for legislators to review when creating the state budget, Haley said.
“There will be strong measurables that are black and white, very clear, no gray areas. If we are going to fund in a consistent way, we’ve got to be consistent in the way we check those measurables,” Haley said. “The ones that are doing it better will get funded more.”
The message echoed what Haley said last year on the campaign trail. It was the tone that college leaders said was encouraging.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford had long chastised colleges for raising tuition rates to the highest in the Southeast, with tuition and required fees at four-year colleges costing nearly $10,000 this school year. Sanford’s proposals have included consolidating administrations and closing small, regional campuses. But college presidents say he never met with them as Haley did less than one week after taking office.
The meeting quickly “diffused any notion of us versus them,” said Ken Wingate, chairman of the Commission on Higher Education.
During a higher education summit Sanford organized last September, in which college officials sat in the audience of an auditorium, the governor maintained that colleges are well funded, while college leaders argued that tuition hikes were the result of deep budget cuts. They said then they’re tired of being portrayed as the enemy.
A decade ago, South Carolina’s public colleges received an average of 17 percent of their funding from the state. That’s compared to just 8 percent this year, Wingate said. According to the commission, state funding is well below the regional average, even after factoring in state-funded scholarships.
Haley, a Clemson University graduate, said colleges are critical to the state’s economy, and she wants to support them and give them the flexibility to spend money as they see fit, while providing more accountability.
“These are the faces to jobs. These are the faces to economic development. We need to do everything we can to give them the strength they need but the accountability that taxpayers deserve,” Haley said.
Some legislators advocate limiting how much colleges can raise tuition, something Sanford suggested for years. But Haley said she opposes the idea, calling it a quick fix that doesn’t address the real problems.
“I ask the General Assembly to wait on tuition caps,” she said. “That’s the wrong approach.”
Colleges expect another round of cuts as legislators face an $829 million budget gap for the fiscal year starting July 1. The chairman of the House Ways and Means panel that writes the higher education budget told college presidents late Tuesday that the impending cuts won’t reflect a lack of support.
“We’re caught in a vortex we can’t control, but there will be a better day ahead,” said Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston.