Last Tuesday, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford announced that he would seek caps on tuition increases at the state’s four-year colleges and universities.

Talk about a sop to the core constituency, mused The Eye.

Anyhoo, during an appearance at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in sunny Conway, South Cack-a-lackey, Sanford said that skyrocketing tuition increases over the last few years have reinforced his contention that the state’s 4-year schools need more centralized supervision.


While it is true that tuition for in-state students has doubled over the last six years, Sanford says that state funding for most of these schools stopped declining in 2003.

The Eye will bet that this assertion came as news to the officials of the schools in question.

Sanford wants the four-year schools to be administered after the fashion of the two-year technical colleges, which are governed by a single board of directors.

Sanford said, “If we’re going to keep South Carolina home to the best and the brightest, we can’t price them out of the market for higher education … The technical college system has done a far better job in keeping higher education affordable.”

The Eye noted that Sanford conveniently forgot to mention the steadfast efforts of former U.S. Senator and S.C. Governor Fritz Hollings to bring home the federal bacon to fund and develop the state’s technical college system.

But then again, Fritz is a Democrat.

Four-year college and university administrators were quick to jump on Sanford’s proposal as political whitewash, saying that once again, the governor looks at the numbers he likes and not the big picture.

Sanford plans to submit a budget to the General Assembly in which he will propose tying both in-state and out-of-state tuition increases to the Higher Education Price Index (an inflation monitoring gauge for administrators).

Hey Mark, how’s about looking at that index when you’re trying to cut your own tax bill in that state budget proposal?

Conrad Festa, executive director of the state Commission on Higher Education, told The Post and Courier that since 2001, overall spending for higher education has decreased by roughly $130 million.

Festa also said that Sanford’s contention that funding stopped declining in 2003 is partially true if lottery scholarship monies and stopgap spending measures were factored into the equation.

That’s a far cry from insinuating that spending was up, noted The Eye.

Festa commented that those monies allow more students to attend 4-year schools, but do not help the schools cover operating expenses: “It’s clear that the support has fallen more toward having students pay than the state.”

One only has to look in the direction of those “family values”/”fiscal conservative”/”personal responsibility” jokers in the majority party for the erosion of state funding to the university system.

Gary McCombs, senior VP for business affairs at the College of Charleston, told the P&C, says that Sanford is ignoring the correlation between state spending and tuition increases, “That’s not a coincidence … It’s frustrating to me that we have failed to make the connection that money spent on education is an investment in our future, not an expenditure.”

Unfortunately, Mark Sanford has frequently confused investment with expenditure by design.

Sanford says that he has found that South Carolina had the second-highest higher education expenditures as a percentage of total expenditures among the Southeastern states.

Maybe, mused The Eye, but as any waiter knows, 20 percent of nothing is still nothing.

The P&C noted that according to the Southern Regional Education Board, South Carolina came in dead last in spending per student for higher education in the Southeast.

As with the rest of his grand scheme to restructure every facet of state government, Sanford thinks that consolidation is the answer.

He wants to close down USC-Union and USC-Salkehatchie and slim down operations at the remaining 31 state colleges and universities.

While The Eye is all for cost efficiencies and eliminating wasteful spending, it wishes at the same time that the governor would realize that a college and university system can’t be run like the local Wal-Mart.

These schools are living, breathing entities with very vocal alumni associations — that vote.

The Eye has a hard time visualizing a single board of directors for the distinct personalities of Clemson, Carolina, and the College of Charleston, let alone the smaller schools.

Sanford should instead figure out a better way to generate more state revenue, rather than hasten the demise of those small towns in which the state school is the only game around.

Or maybe the notoriously tightfisted Sanford is simply looking out for his own wallet, as those four boys of his will be in college before he knows it, and The Eye certainly doesn’t see them going to some two-year tech school.

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