Few state agencies in South Carolina can claim to have such an important role to play in preparing our state’s next leaders as our educational system can. Our schools provide the basis in which we ready our youth to enter the workforce and chase after the American Dream we care so deeply about. We have many priorities, but few outweigh the importance and significance of the educational system we promote and fund.
Unfortunately, we are at a time when funding and support for our higher educational system is at an all-time low. Just two years ago, the College of Charleston claimed nearly 17 percent of its budget from state appropriations. Today, that number is 8 percent and falling. This trend is commonplace throughout South Carolina as state funding remains well below the regional average. These are troubling trends for students in South Carolina, as less state funding directly results in schools being forced to implement higher tuition levels to ensure the continued quality of their institutions.
This is why students across the state came together last week in Columbia on the steps of the Statehouse for a Rally for Higher Education. Speaking about the importance of higher education and offering suggestions on how to balance our state’s budget without adversely affecting our colleges, the student body presidents from the University of South Carolina and Clemson University joined me in declaring our support for our schools and the future of our state.
As we move forward, we understand that funding to higher education will be cut, but, more importantly, we also understand the urgency of making cuts to education that are reflective of other cuts across the state. This is not the time to balance the budget on the backs of our colleges and universities.
We recognize that education needs to be part of the solution, but not the entire solution to our state’s budgetary shortfalls. We are all ready to make sacrifices for the common good, but as students we have great concerns about proposals that would use our tuition dollars directly to fix the deficit. The “other funds” bill that currently is in the Senate aims to use the tuition and fee funds that our colleges depend on so dearly to balance the state’s budget. In this, we would only be finding a short-term solution for a deeply rooted issue in our fiscal policies, while in reality we need to find a long-term solution to fix our state. This proposal is not only irresponsible, but it is fiscally reckless. Tangible decisions need to be made that will address the underlying roots of this budget shortfall, and using tuition dollars to temporarily balance the budget is not one of them.
Finally, we ask South Carolina to allow universities to have the freedom they need to make decisions on their own accord and in a timely manner. The high regulatory climate in our state prevents our universities from providing efficient services to students and adds significant costs as we spend too long navigating the red tape of Columbia. We not only urge our lawmakers to provide regulatory relief to our schools, but also to simultaneously pass transparency bills to allow our taxpayers to know how their money is being spent. Both measures will allow for stronger schools that are more responsive to the needs of the students and taxpayers of this state.
As South Carolina moves forward with its budgeting process in the coming months, it is important that the cornerstone of our state is not used to balance this budget. We have too much at stake to risk losing quality and affordable state institutions of higher learning. We should come together as a statewide community of students to request that our legislature acts in friendly and responsible ways to our colleges and to keep our state and people moving forward.
Isaiah Nelson is the student body president of the College of Charleston.