Facing a stubborn and precipitous five-year trend of declining enrollment, South Carolina State University interim president Cynthia Warrick has a plan that is, sadly, the best short-term option: Find a way to make it through the semester.
Then, she says, the school will need to develop a strategy to increase enrollment, which is 500 students shy of predictions, leaving the budget is $6 million short.
The school is considering a 7 percent across-the-board cut in spending; freezing employee positions; consolidating dorms; reducing or eliminating travel, entertainment and supplies; and halting work on the James E. Clyburn Transportation Center.
But if maintaining student enrollment levels is key to a healthy budget, there is one measure the school can take immediately.
Eric Eaton, S.C. State’s associate vice president for finance, told university trustees last week that too many students are not earning high enough grades to continue receiving financial aid. Without such aid, many students can’t continue to attend the school.
While it is obviously distressing to think students are failing to make adequate academic progress, that failure provides a realistic opportunity for the university to begin addressing its problems with its existing resources.
The faculty can pull out the stops and help students make the kind of academic progress necessary to maintain financial aid. That’s what faculty members are trained to do, and perhaps with fewer students, professors can spend more one-on-one time with students who are struggling.
S.C. State’s faculty faces different challenges than do teachers in other schools because the Orangeburg school admits students who don’t necessarily have the academic background to earn admission to other four-year state schools. Educating those students is part of its mission, and it is a noble one.
Dr. Warrick and the administration should indeed make plans to boost enrollment, slow student attrition, balance the budget and increase fund-raising.
But meanwhile, the faculty can try to keep students in school by going the extra distance to help them improve academically.
Critics might say teachers should be making that kind of effort anyway, and they might well be. But sometimes setting new goals and being determined to reach them can reinvigorate people to do even more.
S.C. State has had more than its share of administrative, financial and academic problems. It has a long way to go to be the sound, successful institution state taxpayers, students and employees deserve.
If the faculty and administration turn things around so that at-risk students can achieve a higher level of academic progress, expect more good things to follow.