Higher education bill offers historic opportunity to restore funding, increase access for SC students
The Higher Education Opportunity Act is the culmination of bipartisan discussions among Senate leaders about how to address chronic underfunding of South Carolina’s public colleges and universities. The result is a comprehensive proposal that both restores funds to institutions and provides more opportunity for South Carolina students to earn a degree — making it one of the most encouraging pieces of legislation for higher education in years.
There is no doubt that this would be the most significant step forward in higher education policy in more than a decade.
The prospects of the HEOA received a boost in June with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that paves the way for states to realize new revenue through Internet retail sales. For South Carolina, this could translate to tens of millions of dollars annually. The HEOA earmarks a portion of these new funds to restore the decade-long decline in state funding.[pdf].
What the bill does:
- Freezes tuition for in-state students for one year and slows tuition growth for our state’s students in future years by reinvesting more than $125 million back into public colleges.
- Rewards colleges for enrolling more in-state students by distributing the additional funding based on in-state student enrollment. Lack of state funding is one reason [pdf] for the recent increase in out-of-state student enrollment.
- Requires no state tax increases. Instead, funding comes from a combination of existing and future state revenues placed into a new Higher Education Opportunity trust fund.
- Modernizes the state’s scholarship offerings by ensuring the sustainability of current merit-based scholarship programs (Palmetto Fellows, LIFE and HOPE) while focusing more state resources on assisting students with financial need.
- Establishes reliable funding dedicated entirely to repairing our public colleges’ aging and crumbling campus facilities, infrastructure and equipment.
Recurring funding would be benchmarked with overall state revenue, so increases in revenue would benefit institutions and they wouldn’t be disproportionately impacted in years with declining revenue.
- Cuts duplicative and costly red tape and state regulation of public colleges while still maintaining proper oversight.
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides praised the HEOA proposal as a “historic reinvestment” and specifically thanked Sens. Vincent Sheheen and Harvey Peeler for working together to shape the proposed legislation.
“The Higher Education Opportunity Act represents a historic reinvestment by our state, through a dedicated funding stream, to ensure the success of our next generation of South Carolinians,” Pastides said. “With this new funding, our public universities will be able to further enhance access and affordability for South Carolina’s high school graduates. There is no doubt that this would be the most significant step forward in higher education policy in more than a decade.”