By voting to establish an advisory committee to oversee South Carolina State University, the state Senate is acknowledging what everyone knows: The school is in serious financial trouble and has been for years.
But the vote also sends a message that state legislators want the state's only public historically black college to succeed.
That's important because some exasperated taxpayers have given up on the Orangeburg school and are suggesting a variety of drastic changes: Make it part of the University of South Carolina; make it the state's remedial college where students get up to academic speed so they can attend other state colleges; close it altogether.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who sits on the powerful Budget and Control Board, said he will never agree to close the university.
Actions taken so far, albeit not enough to get S.C. State out of the weeds, are reasonable first steps in pursuit of its survival. The B&C Board agreed to lend the school $6 million to cover immediate debts. School President Thomas Elzey had requested the school be given $13.6 million to cover its overall debts.
It is highly unlikely that the school will find a way to repay the $6 million loan any time soon, and Mr. Leatherman has referred to the gesture as "a Band-Aid" for a school that needs much more help.
But perhaps if the $6 million is used wisely to keep the university afloat, even just until the end of the semester, the Legislature will be inclined to extend more substantial help.
An oversight committee of respected college presidents and former presidents should give S.C. State wise guidance, and would also have credibility with the Legislature.
Members under the Senate plan are James Barker, former Clemson president; Harris Pastides, USC president; Fred Carter, Francis Marion University president; Alex Sanders, former College of Charleston president and chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals; and Ernest A. Finney, former S.C. Supreme Court justice and S.C. State president.
Lawmakers should find that impressive lineup worthy of their trust. The committee's goal will be to help ensure that S.C. State has a viable plan going forward. President Elzey has said he welcomes the guidance.
They will work with auditors hired by the school at the instruction of the B&C Board.
The task ahead is certain to be difficult, and S.C. State's financial and academic problems won't be resolved quickly. Its academic accreditation is being challenged. Audits have turned up wide mismanagement of money, and the school's chief of police resigned after confessing to using his office for personal gain.
Mr. Elzey became S.C. State president a year ago after serving as The Citadel's first executive vice president for finance, administration and operations.
The Legislature should give him and a new board of trustees the help they need to turn things around at S.C. State. The school has long played an important role in higher education in South Carolina, and its loss would be a blow to the state.
The newly constructed committee of high-power advisors and a dedicated accountant could offer needed assurance to legislators - and taxpayers - that the struggling school is on the road to recovery.