Editorial: SC State University needs long-term fix

February 9, 2014 

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— WE SINCERELY wish we could declare the recently revealed financial struggles at S.C. State University an aberration, but the fact is that the state-owned college has endured fiscal woes of varying degree off and on for years.

This latest turbulence stems from a troublesome trend of dwindling student enrollment, poor leadership and board and administrative upheaval, among other things. University officials have told the state that the institution faces a $4 million budget deficit and needs $13 million to pay its bills and loans.

S.C. State desperately needs help, and the state should provide it, although we don’t know enough to say what level of support that should be. Whatever the state does, it shouldn’t be without requiring this endeared institution of higher learning to take a close look at itself and develop a prescription for long-term stability. S.C. State — and other state colleges experiencing steady enrollment decline — should explore what it must do to reposition itself for what appears to be the new normal.

We appreciate S.C. State’s status as South Carolina’s lone publicly funded historically black college. Long before integration, the Orangeburg college gave black students an opportunity to become productive citizens and contributors to our state. And its work continues. That said, its leadership is duty-bound to correct the problems that long have plagued it.

Lawmakers and other leaders are understandably perplexed about S.C. State’s deficit. State budget officials have asked university president Thomas Elzey to submit a financial plan, and the state inspector general has said his office will investigate the school.

It’s unfortunate that it takes dire circumstances for people to take notice of the college. Although many of the university’s wounds are self-inflicted, S.C. State never has gotten adequate attention and support — financially or otherwise — from the General Assembly. Yes, it serves a predominantly black population, but it doesn’t belong just to black citizens; it belongs to all of this state’s taxpayers, and those elected to oversee South Carolina’s affairs are obligated to provide oversight and support.

Dysfunction long has reigned at the university, due in large part to the fact that the Legislature has allowed a handful of lawmakers to determine who got on the university’s board; too many chosen to lead the institution acted out of self interest and engaged in bitter infighting while managing the school poorly. Is there any wonder that S.C. State has had the troubles it has? We can only hope that its new president and a reconfigured board will make a difference.

We don’t know what the inspector general might unearth; if irregularities are found, they should be dealt with appropriately. Meanwhile, state leaders must help S.C. State become the stable, viable institution of higher education this state needs it to be.

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