COLUMBIA — Jeff Schilz, director of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education, announced his resignation Wednesday, a month after the agency's chairman quit during a spat over the director's unauthorized $91,487 pay raise.
Schilz, a former aide in Gov. Mark Sanford’s administration, was part of a movement by the commission to hold the state's 33 public colleges more accountable for increased construction spending, rising tuition and growing enrollment of out-of-state students.
That criticism was not well-received by university leaders and some powerful lawmakers because the commission was not known for being so aggressive in trying to regulate college spending and enrollment decisions.
The commission's cost-cutting and transparency efforts were undermined when word got out that Schilz had received a 54 percent pay raise after he become the agency's permanent director in August. His new salary of $257,767 a year made him the state's highest-paid agency head outside of a college campus.
The pay hike was not approved by a state panel led by the South Carolina's most powerful politician, Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman.
Schilz's raise, along with his promotion, did not become public until late October when Leatherman sent a letter to higher education commission leaders asking for their resignation.
After the letter, Schilz's raise was retracted, and he repaid the difference in salary he received over the previous two months.
Commission Chairman Tim Hofferth, a Lexington sports marketing executive, stepped down a week after Leatherman's letter but not before calling the pay controversy "political theater" and a "circus" to distract from the need to reform South Carolina colleges.
Gov. Henry McMaster, who appoints commission board members, has not named a successor.
Schilz stayed on and unveiled an online tool Monday that allows students and parents to calculate tuition and fees to obtain degrees at specific South Carolina colleges.
Schilz submitted a seven-page resignation letter to the commission board that detailed his accomplishments since becoming the agency's interim director in April 2017. It featured redesigning the website, creating more data analysis and holding town hall meetings across the state.
He said the changes put the agency in a better position to help the state make higher education and workforce development decisions.
Schilz's only reason for departing mentioned in his letter was that he felt the time was right for "a fresh perspective and new energy" to advance reforms that the commission was pushing. He told lawmakers this fall that he planned to leave at the end of the year.
In a sign of the problems over his promotion this summer, which did not have a public vote by the board, Schilz signed his resignation letter as "interim" executive director.
Schilz's last day is Dec. 12, leaving the agency that oversees colleges with more than 200,000 students minus a full-time director or chairman.
McMaster backed Schilz and Hofferth's efforts to have colleges trim expenses, halt tuition hikes and curb the growing number of out-of-state students. Colleges argue they must raise tuition and seek higher-paying students from outside South Carolina because the Statehouse provides so little funding.
McMaster has a chance to appoint a group of commission board members who support continuing changes pushed by previous agency leaders.
He has a chance to fill five openings on its 15-member board.