CofC Graduation03.JPG (copy)

College of Charleston graduates make their way across the stage to receive their diploma for the first of the May commencement exercises Friday, May 11, 2018. 

By Andrew Whitaker

Rising tuition has long been a sad fact of life for students at South Carolina’s four-year public colleges and universities. The state Commission on Higher Education wants to put the brakes on that central academic expense — now the highest in the Southeast.

That’s the essential reform recently proposed by the commission in what it calls the Student Bill of Rights.

The CHE recognizes that the tuition trend is no longer sustainable for students or for universities. But the CHE has little control over tuition hikes or other important policy components of higher ed.

And its reform efforts have typically met with resistance by the individual colleges whose respective trustees call the shots. Moreover, the Legislature has generally sided with the individual universities instead of the commission.

That’s why the CHE has taken its message of fiscal responsibility around the state in recent months, noting, for example, that South Carolina ranks first in the nation in tuition as a percentage of household income. The state also ranks eighth in the nation in student debt. Over the past 30 years, tuition has risen 266 percent, adjusted for inflation.

The commission wants a statewide initiative to cap the cost of attending college and to give in-state students primacy in state college enrollment. It envisions a stronger role for the CHE in monitoring institutional budgets and enrollment policy. Restraining tuition hikes would directly benefit state taxpayers and their children.

A primary function of public higher ed is to serve the citizens of this state. But more and more in-state students are getting priced out of the market.

Making college affordable should be the first order of business. The state technical and community college system has done a better job along that line, setting an example for their higher ed counterparts.

If the Legislature has been less than supportive of the commission over the years, at least it didn’t renew last year’s effort to take away the CHE’s authority over building projects. Gov. Henry McMaster was able to preserve CHE’s oversight mission with a veto that was thankfully sustained earlier this year.

“Our state’s colleges and universities provide a tremendous service to the people of South Carolina and are important economic drivers for our state,” Gov. McMaster said in support of the CHE’s Student Bill of Rights. “For that progress to continue we must do what we can to ensure that tuition costs are not unnecessarily prohibitive.”

A stronger Commission on Higher Education — one with greater oversight and authority — is central to that goal.