In another blow to the state's lackluster reputation on schools, South Carolina ranked dead last in the education category in U.S. News & World Report's inaugural ranking of all 50 states.
Overall, U.S. News pegged the Palmetto State as the sixth worst in nation, coming in at No. 45 in the ranking ahead of New Mexico, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Massachusetts took the No. 1 spot, followed by New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington.
Using publicly available data, analysts at U.S. News ranked each state across seven categories using 68 metrics. The education ranking was based on 11 metrics, including college and high school graduation rates and standardized test scores.
Although the report found South Carolina boasts a high four-year college graduation rate and a quality state-run pre-kindergarten program, the state suffered in the ranking due its low reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, high tuition and fees at public colleges, low pre-school enrollment figures and low two-year college graduation rates.
South Carolina also faltered on the percentage of students who met the "college readiness" benchmarks on the ACT exam. On the English ACT subject exam, for example, only 44 percent of S.C. students met the benchmark. In Massachusetts, by contrast, the top-ranked state in education, 85 percent of students met the benchmark.
"I hate to say it, but it does reflect the problems we're having in the pipeline," said Melanie Barton, executive director of the state's Education Oversight Committee, regarding S.C.'s education ranking. "We’re not getting kids out with the skills they need to be successful.
"South Carolina has got to wake up," she added. "This the 21st century, folks. We're not gonna go back to an era where a high school diploma means a living wage."
John Lane, director of academic affairs at the state Commission on Higher Education, cautioned that the U.S. News report does not provide a complete picture of the quality of the state's education system. And many of the challenges facing higher education in S.C. — student debt loads, high tuition, low educational attainment — are common among states in the South.
"Other states, we do know, Louisiana in particular, have suffered significant additional cuts in the resources allocated for higher education," Lane said. "Our cuts have not been so profound as theirs since all of us endured the low tide with the recession, but in the meantime, we're still trying to understand why some of these trends we're seeing have persisted."
South Carolina stumbled in three other categories in the U.S. News ranking, falling in the bottom 10 in crime and corrections (41st), infrastructure (43rd) and "opportunity" (48th), a measure based on metrics like gender equality, housing affordability and the poverty rate. South Carolina also ranked 32nd in government and 39th in health care.
The state received high marks in one category: It has the 16th best economy in the nation, according to U.S. News, bolstered by its growing population of young people and positive rate of net migration, meaning far more people are moving to South Carolina than leaving.