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Higher Edu-Spat: Kirkman Finlay Wants Answers From USC

Lawmaker wants South Carolina’s “flagship” university to explain its soaring tuition costs …

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There’s a battle brewing this year in South Carolina state government related to soaring “higher education” costs.

Pushing this narrative?  The new executive director of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education (SCCHE), Jeff Schilz.

Schilz’s agency says higher education costs have climbed by an astronomical 761 percent since 1987 – dwarfing a 240 percent increase in health care costs, a 130 percent increase in housing costs and an 85 percent increase in income levels over the same time period.  South Carolina’s higher education price increase over this time frame is much higher than the national increase of 549 percent.  Meanwhile our state’s income growth lags behind the national increase of 115 percent.

That’s not good … but also not surprising.

Want more data?  Despite its low incomes, South Carolina currently ranks No. 8 nationally in average student debt ($30,328).  Meanwhile institutional debt per student has climbed from $10,722 per student in 2008 to $17,771 per student last year – a massive 65.7 percent increase.

Meanwhile the Palmetto state currently ranks No. 6 nationally in the amount of money it spends on higher education capital projects (to say nothing of dubious “deferred maintenance” costs embraced by liberal “Republicans” like state senator Greg Gregory).

Add it all up and the Palmetto State now ranks first in the nation in the cost of tuition as a percentage of household income.

These numbers are totally unacceptable, but sadly indicative of what happens when government runs something with which it has no business being involved.

Anyway, Shilz’s efforts have drawn a sharp rebuke from the state’s “higher educrats.”  Specifically, his agency has been blasted by University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides – whose “flagship” school has been on the receiving end of much of the “capital” referenced above.

Seriously … remember “Innovista?”

“The CHE is a bureaucratic organization desperately in search of relevancy and purpose,” Pastides wrote in a letter to budget writers in the S.C. House of Representatives earlier this month, adding that “less regulation over higher education is a good thing that can only result in more efficient operations.”

(Click to view)

(Via: iStock)

Pastides went on to blast the SCCHE as “misguided” and accused its chairman – Tim Hofferth – of having a “general lack of understanding … about the operations of large, public institutions of higher education.”  He also assailed public criticism of skyrocketing tuition costs as “populist rhetoric.”

Yeah … ivory tower much? 

Hofferth responded to Pastides’ letter earlier this week, accusing the upper-six-figure bureaucrat of resorting to “personal attacks.”

He also chided Pastides for dismissing the concerns of parents and students struggling to pay higher tuition bills.

“These students and parents are not misguided and neither are the citizens of South Carolina that feel the same way,” Hofferth wrote.  “They’re feeling the real pain of financial pressure and they’re giving voice to the concerns of thousands of families and taxpayers across South Carolina.”

Wading into the battle this week was House ways and means committee member Kirkman Finlay, who wrote Pastides a letter (.pdf) pushing him to specifically address the data included in the SCCHE’s letter to budget writers.

“You addressed some of your concerns with (Hofferth’s) position,” Finlay wrote to Pastides. “However, there were six points made within his letter that you did not address.”

Finlay’s letter went on to reference several of the statistics included at the outset of this piece, including South Carolina’s highest-in-the-nation cost of tuition as a percentage of household income.

“I am requesting a response from you on those points,” Finlay wrote.

Good for Finlay …

Pastides tried to talk his way out of this damning data … but Finlay called him out on it, something the third-term lawmaker has been consistently unafraid to do when dealing with evasive, unaccountable government bureaucrats.

Anyway, for those of you keeping score at home the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus is slated to receive $1.221 billion in the latest version of the fiscal year 2018-2019 state budget – up 8.5 percent from the $1.125 billion it is receiving in the current budget year.

Our view?  We’ve been clear on this subject for years …

Higher education isn’t – or at least shouldn’t be – something taxpayers are forced to subsidize.  Especially not the way it’s done in the Palmetto State.

“It is simply not a core function of government – whether via direct appropriations to institutions or taxpayer-guaranteed student loans,” we wrote last month.

In fact these student loans have become an existential threat to our economy …

If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a million times: It is past time America’s colleges and universities were set free to pursue their destinies in the private sector. 

Pastides’ arrogance in responding to legitimate criticism is the latest proof that the cord needs to be cut sooner rather than later …

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