Francis Marion plan shows need for board of regents
South Carolina’s college trustees want the best for the schools they serve — the best facilities, faculty and athletic teams.
But they don’t necessarily look at the big picture — one that includes the best use of higher education resources. So a college that wants to add a major doesn’t have to consider that another college offers that major in the next county.
More to the local point, the board of Francis Marion University might well open a satellite campus in Mount Pleasant even though the College of Charleston, The Citadel and the Medical University of South Carolina are just across the river. And Trident Technical College is actually in Mount Pleasant, in a satellite campus.
In a column last week, College of Charleston President George Benson said the college has many students from east of the Cooper as well as many institutional ties with Mount Pleasant.
Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails responded in an op-ed on Saturday, saying that FMU would more generally provide admission to high school students in his town.
In our view, there are solutions short of opening an FMU campus in Mount Pleasant.
Too bad there isn’t a strong board of regents for state-supported higher ed to make the tough calls on restraining mission creep and duplication.
Some stalwart legislators regularly push for South Carolina to establish a board of regents to govern its colleges and universities in place of the Commission on Higher Education, which has little real authority.
Sadly, the General Assembly’s practice has been to routinely shuffle bills to that effect off into committees to die.
For example, in January Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, introduced legislation to create a board of regents as a companion bill to one in the House supported by Reps. G. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, Gary R. Smith, R-Greenville, and Dwight Loftis, R-Greenville.
Both were quickly referred to committee where they remain.
Meanwhile colleges build their kingdoms and tuitions rise.
Other states, including North Carolina, have adopted a system governed by a statewide board of regents. It doesn’t eliminate all duplication and waste — college politics can make legislative politics look like a friendly game of checkers — but it does force a discussion about what best benefits the state and its taxpayers.
And it can put pressure on colleges to rein in spending to keep tuitions affordable.
Georgetown University predicted that 63 percent of all job openings by 2018 will require workers with at least some college education, The state Department of Education is pushing primary schools to do a better job preparing students for college. The state also needs to push colleges to make sure residents can get good secondary education that they can afford.
The independent South Carolina Policy Council supports creating a board of regents, and part of its mission is to limit government.
Powerful legislators and board members can make such things happen, even when it means sparse state funding will be stretched even thinner and the cost to students will grow.
For example, South Carolina, a small state, has three medical schools.
A board of regents would be charged with assessing the economic and academic advantages, and disadvantages, of major changes in South Carolina’s higher education.
South Carolina’s public higher education system lacks focus and is too diffuse for the dollars it can command.
A board of regents would rein in empire building and the willy-nilly duplication of college programs across the state.