INSPECTOR GENERAL

Inspector general starts probe of SC State

ashain@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2014 

The S.C. Inspector General’s Office has started an investigation into S.C. State University, just days after state lawmakers learned the school needs a $13 million bailout.

S.C. Inspector General Patrick Maley, a retired FBI agent, confirmed the probe Wednesday but declined to discuss specifics. Maley’s agency examines “fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement, misconduct and wrongdoing” in the state’s executive branch, its website says.

The state’s only historically black public college has gone through financial and leadership turmoil in recent years. S.C. State’s enrollment has dropped as well, adding to its money problems.

School president Thomas Elzey, who has been on the Orangeburg campus for less than a year, sent a letter to state budget leaders last month outlining S.C. State’s bottom-line woes.

Despite cutting costs and staff, the college expects a $4.4 million deficit by the end of its June 30 fiscal year, and needs $13 million to pay its bills and loans, he wrote. Part of the problem is that the school’s expenditures are based on five-year-old enrollment figures, when S.C. State’s student body was larger.

State budget leaders asked S.C. State to submit a plan to shore up its balance sheet within two weeks.

Efforts to reach S.C. State officials Wednesday were unsuccessful. The school’s board chairman said last week that S.C. State has money to keep operating but he did not say for how long.

Lawmakers said they wanted to see the administration’s plan before committing to giving the university more money.

“This school has been an embarrassment to the state and to higher education in South Carolina for the past 10 years,” said Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, adding he is hopeful about the college’s new leadership. “But time is short. There’s an awful lot of frustration in the General Assembly with this institution.”

Rep. Jerry Govan, an Orangeburg Democrat who graduated from S.C. State, said the school needs money to help get out of its hole. “We’re not at the point where we should throw in the towel.”

Other legislators agreed the 118-year-old school needs to survive.

“This state needs this school,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. “We need the diversity it brings.”

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