The cost to the state to help South Carolina State University out of a financial crisis would be $13.6 million.
The cost of not helping would be immeasurable.
Yes, S.C. State has had more than its share of problems in recent years. It has received bad marks from auditors. The school's former chief of police pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks. And a former board chair is being prosecuted on related charges. Enrollment has dropped precipitously, and along with it, revenue from tuition.
But the school has a new president and mostly new board members, who have been up front about S.C. State's failings and are committed to fixing them.
There is reason to hope that President Thomas Elzey, an experienced college administrator who came to S.C. State from The Citadel, where he was vice president for finance, will lead the school to recovery - if the state helps with that $13.6 million.
If it doesn't, the state itself will suffer by crippling its only public historically black college. Its students and alumni will suffer because the school could lose its accreditation, diminishing the value of their degrees. And the state economy could see the pool of employable graduates shrink.
The Legislature has endorsed generous financial incentives for businesses. Surely $13.6 million is a reasonable investment in the future, economic and otherwise.
The Ways and Means Committee hasn't made a decision about the school's request.
Meanwhile, Gov. Nikki Haley first wants to see what the state inspector general reports. His assessment is expected in the next few weeks.
Her approach is valid. If S.C. State has yet to turn the corner on its financial and academic plans for the future, the bailout could require conditions and additional state oversight.
And Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, a committee member, is reasonable to want to read a report on S.C. State's needs from budget staff before making a decision.
But Ways and Means must not expect the board and Mr. Elzey, who has been at the university less than a year, to have resolved every problem. He is dealing with the results of years of mismanagement - some of which is so tangled that auditor after auditor has been unable to get it straight.
The pressing issue is that vendors who supply things like food, landscaping and equipment maintenance are threatening to cut off services if they aren't paid by April.
Then there is the issue of timing. S.C. State needs money before July 1 when the new budget year begins.
The university is projecting a balanced budget for the next school year based on increasing enrollment by more than 500. It is encouraging that the school has received 50 percent more applications so far this year than last year at this time. But that is no guarantee.
Some taxpayers are displeased that their dollars have gone to support a university previously out of control. That's understandable.
But South Carolina State University, the Legislature and the people of the state should be on the same team, all trying to improve the educational profile of South Carolina. S.C. State officials are working to bring accountability to the school, and a solvent operation is essential to that task.
The university needs the state's financial support to make its turnaround possible.
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