Despite receiving an estimated $185 million in initial federal “stimulus” funds – with more money reportedly on the way – South Carolina’s institutions of higher learning are facing increasingly dire financial realities in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Is that a good thing? Of course not. We do not wish hard times on anyone … and the sad reality is a lot of people tied to this “industry” are going to lose their jobs in the months to come.
That is not something we would ever celebrate …
We do, however, believe the current fiscal crisis provides government at all levels with a long-overdue opportunity to fundamentally reexamine its core responsibilities … with an eye on limiting both the size and scope of the public obligations place on taxpayers.
This news outlet plans on addressing several of these “limitations” when it presents its broader vision for “reopening” South Carolina later this month – a blueprint which will provide a stark contrast to the bureaucratic bailout approach currently being advanced by “Republican” leaders in the Palmetto State.
In the meantime, though, the issue of higher education needs to be addressed. Quickly.
“The subsidization of non-core functions – and inefficiency in administering core functions – was already unfortunate … (b)ut in the trying days, months and years to come, it simply can no longer be tolerated,” we wrote as the worst of the virus was bearing down on our country in March.
Regular readers of this news outlet are well aware of our support for privatizing higher education … which is based on the unwavering belief that it is not a core function of government.
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(Via: Clemson University)
Against a backdrop of skyrocketing tuition costs and unsustainable student debt, these institutions have been blowing money on an assortment of wasteful items – including spectacularly failed “economic development” projects, Confederate submarine “research” and all manner of socialist indoctrination.
For years, we have said these institutions should be set free to pursue their destinies in the private sector – arguing that further taxpayer subsidization of their operations (or government guarantees of student loans) was an unwise investment.
“The notion that spending on higher education must escalate in perpetuity on the backs of either taxpayers or students/ their parents a false dichotomy,” we wrote in the summer of 2018. “It’s not an ‘either/ or’ proposition. In fact, we don’t have to escalate this spending at all. Why not? Because as we have said ad nauseam – higher education is not a core function of government.”
What was true then is especially true now …
With the coronavirus recession costing the University of South Carolina an estimated $30 million to $40 million in the fiscal year that ends on June 30 – and projections for even deeper pain in the fiscal year to come – efforts have been undertaken to trim the fat.
For starters, school administrators and athletic coaches will take 10 percent pay cuts in the coming fiscal year in the hopes of saving the institution $1.2 million. The school has already implemented a hiring freeze and is currently in the process of reviewing proposals to furlough employees and cut programs.
Also, school officials have announced plans to shutter the campus on November 24 – just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday – in anticipation of a second wave of the coronavirus sweeping the nation.
“Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December, which also will likely coincide with traditional flu season,” a statement from school president Robert Caslen (below) noted.
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According to our sources, though, Caslen’s announcement has less to do with health care concerns and more to do with the university cutting costs (while still being able to bill a full semester’s worth of tuition).
At Clemson University, the fiscal situation is less dire – however school officials have grown increasingly concerned about a possible fall enrollment slump.
“There is deep concern about enrollment for the fall,” school vice president Tony Wagner told trustees in late April.
Of interest? Schools across the country could potentially wind up facing more blowback for holding online-only classes than for reopening with the potential coronavirus threat lurking over them.
A new study from Carnegie Dartlet found that ninety-five percent of high school seniors said that they would “honor commitments made to colleges that plan to reopen in the fall with social distancing measures in place,” according to a report on the data from Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed.
However, “thirty-three percent of high school seniors say they are likely to defer or cancel an admission offer that is conditional on attending an all-online college in the fall,” Jaschik noted, referencing the study.
Whichever way colleges and universities decide to go, the risk associated with their choice can no longer be absorbed in any way, shape or form by taxpayers. In fact, it never should have been absorbed by taxpayers in the first place.
“Higher education must be immediately and permanently privatized,” we concluded in our 2018 column. “No more government appropriations, period. Furthermore, student loans in this country must be issued based on what the market determines to be an acceptable level of risk, not a federal guarantee. Anything short of this will only add more destructive force to a ticking time bomb that has become an existential threat to the American economy.”
Bottom line? It is time to cut this cord once and for all – to push higher education completely into the realm of the free market. There, individual institutions will sink or swim on the basis of their ability to offer a competitive product – not their ability to get politicians to hand them millions of dollars of your money.
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Banner: The University of South Carolina