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Free college for Columbia high school grads? Mayor Benjamin wants it to happen

Moments from Steve Benjamin’s 2018 State of the City address

Columbia SC Mayor Steve Benjamin reviewed the city’s accomplishments and highlighted his vision for its near future in his 2018 State of the City address at Columbia College.
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Columbia SC Mayor Steve Benjamin reviewed the city’s accomplishments and highlighted his vision for its near future in his 2018 State of the City address at Columbia College.

Columbia public high school students who “do what we know that they can” by getting good grades, behaving and graduating should be able to count on the city to pay for their college education, Mayor Steve Benjamin said Tuesday.

Columbia could help “every single child in our public schools ... rise to the challenge of higher education and help ease the staggering cost,” Benjamin said in his annual State of the City address, given Tuesday night at Columbia College.

The mayor did not go into details about what kind of plan could pay for the college educations of Columbia graduates. But he said it could be modeled off a program in Kalamazoo, Mich., where anonymous donors pay up to 100 percent of college tuition for the city’s public high school graduates. A number of communities across the country have similar programs.

Encouraging higher education for Columbia’s children is necessary to prepare them for the “technological revolution” unfolding in the city, Benjamin said.

In addition to his higher education proposal, highlights of Benjamin’s agenda-setting speech included:

▪ North Columbia’s rising star. Benjamin touted continuing, intentional investments – from park revitalizations to streetscaping to small business loans to a recently announced massive mixed-use development on North Main Street – that have resulted in “an explosion of activity and growth” in areas north of downtown, he said.

▪ A “bold new plan” for Finlay Park. Benjamin expects to turn the blighted downtown park into “a local, a regional and a national draw.” “Keep your eyes open,” he said.

▪ A growing network of technology infrastructure that soon will bring faster, 5G wireless internet speeds to the city and help spur further economic growth and innovation.

▪ Keeping Columbia a place we can all afford to live in. Benjamin expects a new city policy that will incentivize private builders to incorporate affordable housing units into mixed-use, mixed-income developments.

▪ Meeting the needs of aging Columbians. Columbia will host its first Seniors Summit in the coming year.

▪ Tackling trains. With the success of commercial ports in Charleston and Greer, Columbia is caught in the middle of a booming statewide railroad network, and that requires statewide collaboration to address challenges trains present to a growing city, Benjamin said. He alluded to the possibility of allowing residents to vote on raising money that could go toward a solution to train traffic problems on Assembly Street in downtown Columbia.

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