To read what officials are saying, all that stands in the way of Francis Marion University establishing a campus in Mount Pleasant is securing a place to put it.
Town Council unanimously endorsed the idea and instructed staff to search for a location.
The FMU board of trustees voted unanimously to accept Mount Pleasant’s invitation to expand there, so school president Fred Carter said he will sit down with town officials to figure out the programming particulars.
It would be better if we were also hearing about the plan from a statewide perspective: Is this a good move for state taxpayers? How much would it cost them?
How would the expansion affect the College of Charleston, The Citadel and Trident Technical College? Would programs duplicate others already being offered?
Former Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails, who came up with the idea for an FMU campus in Mount Pleasant, wrote to inform the S.C. Commission on Higher Education that the town had made the proposal.
And Julie Carullo, spokeswoman for CHE, said university president Carter, CHE executive director Richard C. Sutton and College of Charleston officials have been talking about “how educational needs in the Charleston area might most effectively be addressed.”
The tough questions ought not come last — after public funds have been spent on a site for the satellite college. That would be a bit like a student taking Electromagnetic Theory III before Foundations of Physics I. The project will have taken on momentum, and the CHE will have a much more difficult time saying “no” or redirecting the plan at that point.
It makes more sense first to prove a need for the new campus, justify its expense and determine its impact on other state schools, and only then move forward on a campus — if it is a good step for the state.
In North Carolina, where a Board of Governors oversees the entire university system, the president, at the direction of the board, initiates and oversees a study when a new campus is proposed. Part of that process requires consulting with the N.C. Community College System to assess the need.
It is important that Trident Tech be included in discussions about a Mount Pleasant campus for FMU. Trident operates a satellite campus east of the Cooper, serving some 500 students.
State funding for colleges in South Carolina has decreased, and schools are struggling to make up for the loss. Beginning another college program would further diffuse public funds. Why not focus instead on a bridge program, which would allow students who meet academic criteria at TTC to matriculate at the College of Charleston?
Too many public colleges in South Carolina compete for too few public dollars. One reason is that decisions about higher education are often made in the political arena.
Indeed, Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, recently described college planning as “helter skelter” and cited the need for a comprehensive blueprint for publicly supported higher education in South Carolina.
Some say, “Build it and they will come.” Maybe.
But South Carolina colleges, which operate on extremely limited public dollars, should “build it” only after proving definitively that the state should, and can, invest in a new college campus such as Francis Marion in Mount Pleasant.