SC House budget chief wants private review of public colleges

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 4, 2014 

Education savings

KAREN ROACH

— The leader of the S.C. House’s budget committee wants to hire a national private consultant to see how the state’s public colleges can do a better job of spending tax and tuition dollars.

House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, wants an efficiency and accountability review of the state’s public colleges. He said that the colleges are on “an unsustainable growth pattern.”

Funding for S.C. public colleges – including state and federal tax money and tuition payments – has risen by one-third since 2006 to $4.4 billion, House budget leaders said.

Meanwhile, tuition costs at four-year S.C. schools have risen by nearly 17 percent over the last five years. The state’s public colleges have the Southeast’s highest average tuition.

Similar professional reviews have led to more than $125 million in savings at flagship state schools in North Carolina and California, S.C. House budget leaders said.

Representatives of one potential consultant, Deloitte from McLean, Va., spoke to a S.C. House higher education budget subcommittee meeting Tuesday. Rick Ferraro, a Deloitte cost management expert, talked about running colleges like businesses. He said schools allow duplication in work and technology and, typically, do not compare their efforts with businesses off campus.

“It’s not a high-performing work environment you’d hear about in a corporate setting,” he said. “This is a mission-focus work environment.”

Ferraro suggested concentrating efforts on cutting administrative costs before trimming any academic work.

Deloitte was not paid for its hour-long presentation Tuesday, and company officials did not have a cost estimate for their work if they were awarded the higher education review.

White plans to bring in other experts, including one from Huron Consulting Group, which worked with the University of South Carolina recently.

“We’ve done just what chairman White recommends,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. “While we are still implementing some of their recommendations, we’ve made strategic cuts to non-core programs, outsourced services and become a leaner institution. ... In a testament to our efficiency, we currently spend $1,000 less per student than we did in 2008.”

White also plans to look at state regulatory changes to help improve efficiency at colleges.

State schools have complained about the cost of project delayed by the layers of reviews and approvals needed from S.C. agencies.

CORRECTION: How much college funding rose since 2006 has been corrected.

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