It’s commendable that Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails listens to his constituents, including those who are complaining about the lack of higher ed opportunities for their children. But does a solution really require a satellite campus of Francis Marion University, a four-year college located in Florence?
Town officials would do better to concentrate their energies in support of a “bridge program” whereby the College of Charleston would invite selected high school graduates who don’t meet requirements for admission to study at Trident Technical College for a year and, if they succeed, automatically transfer to the College as sophomores.
A bridge program has been used successfully by Clemson University and Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton to achieve a similar end.
Trident already serves students who enroll as freshmen and transfer elsewhere in the state’s far-flung four-year system. They can even transfer to FMU.
As for a college education at a budget price, nothing beats the state’s community college system.
Trident already operates a satellite campus east of the Cooper on John Dilligard Lane, serving some 500 students. Local assets targeted for higher ed would be better directed toward bolstering that program rather than creating another, with another campus and another layer of administration. That way higher ed resources won’t be further diffused.
South Carolina has long been hampered by too many public colleges competing for too few public dollars. Part of the problem is that higher ed decisions are too often made in the political arena.
College expansion is often achieved through the legislative process, in the absence of meaningful controls over higher ed — for example, a central board of regents, as is used in other states.
But our Friday story quoted one influential local legislator who raised serious questions about the FMU plan.
Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, correctly described college planning as “helter skelter” and cited the need for a comprehensive blueprint for publicly supported higher education in South Carolina.
That would be a big improvement over having those decisions made on a parochial basis. “For the schools, it’s an arms race,” Rep. Merrill said.
That’s been clear with the growth of public colleges and programs statewide.
Last year, a third state-supported medical school opened, this time in Greenville, ostensibly as an adjunct to the med school at the University of South Carolina.
Those handling the expansion even managed to avoid legislative scrutiny. And objections raised by the state’s weak Commission on Higher Education were easily surmounted.
Now efforts are being made to advance a similar medical program in Florence. Could we end up with yet another medical school? Don’t count it out.
The higher ed “arms race” already has produced an excessive number of public colleges and universities in the small state of South Carolina.
Establishing a bridge program for Trident Technical College and the College of Charleston would be more responsible than effectively launching another four-year public college.
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