Editorial: It’s not enough to simply plug the budget hole at SC State University

June 28, 2014 

— AS S.C. STATE University officials and state leaders work to pull the college out of a deep financial hole, it’s critical that they understand that this is about more than wiping out a deficit.

The college’s long-term health is at stake. It’s not enough to preserve it in a condition that allows it simply to get by. S.C. State needs to undergo a thorough top-to-bottom examination — from its board and administrative leadership to its financial practices and management to its core academic functions — so that it can reposition itself not only to become solvent but to ensure it is relevant — and around — for generations to come.

We understand S.C. State must address its immediate crisis — a $13.6 million deficit this year that was accumulated over eight years as the school borrowed money from a community grant program to pay bills. State budget leaders loaned the school $6 million to pay bills, but that money was consumed by payroll and debt payments.

We commend S.C. State officials for working to make some difficult, but unavoidable, cuts in an effort to help right the university’s ship. But budget cuts alone — or even much-needed cash — are only part of the answer. S.C. State needs a long-term remedy, not simply a budgetary Band-Aid.

Years of legislative neglect, chronic financial woes and poor board and administrative leadership have taken their toll on the Orangeburg college. Recently, the university’s accreditation board placed it on probation — downgrading it from a warning status — due to problems with its finances, governance, administration and financial-aid program. S.C. State has a year to turn things around or it could face another year on probation; if it can’t meet standards by 2016, it could lose its accreditation.

S.C. State is a publicly owned university that historically has played an important role in educating African-American students. Its unique standing is threatened, and we need all hands on deck to turn its fortunes around. Alumni, supporters, administrators, board members and state leaders must come together to save this storied university.

A group of former and current S.C. college presidents has been tasked to help the S.C. State board find solutions, and the school must use as much as $500,000 from its $6 million state loan on a financial consultant. Ultimately, it is S.C. State leaders who must make the necessary changes to put the college back on solid footing. But it makes sense for them to take advantage of this opportunity — or to request other guidance — to help them outline a clear plan for the future of this endeared college.

That plan must focus on more than plugging a budget hole; it must articulate — for students and their parents and for this state’s taxpayers — the process S.C. State will go through to achieve long-term stability. While it’s critical to address the immediate crisis, it would be irresponsible to ignore the systemic and cyclical budget and management woes that helped thrust this university into this precarious position.

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