More S.C. students are passing on going to college, presenting a new financial challenge to the state’s colleges and universities, according to the state agency that oversees higher education.
In 2016, 67 percent of high school graduates who graduated “on time” — after four years — entered a two- or four-year S.C. institution, down from 81 percent 10 years earlier, according to data compiled by the state Commission on Higher Education.
The commission told state senators Thursday more S.C. students are bypassing higher education, even when counting out-of-state schools.
In 2006, a little more than 8 percent of high school graduates did not enter an in-state or out-of-state school or join the armed forces. By 2016, that number had grown to 20 percent.
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Jeff Schilz, the commission’s interim director, told senators some of those S.C. high school graduates may not be prepared for college. Others, he said, may be deterred by the rising cost of tuition at public schools in South Carolina, one of the most expensive states to go to college.
“There’s only so much supply (of tuition-paying students) to go around,” he said, adding schools may be “at the point where there is no more slack.”
Schilz warned that if it continues, the trend of high school graduates skipping college could make it harder for those schools — increasingly dependent on tuition because of state budget cuts — to fund their budgets.
Schilz said the state needs a central authority to monitor budget issues at public colleges, whether that job is done by the Legislature, a new board of regents that would oversee all S.C. public colleges and universities, or an empowered Commission on Higher Education.
Now, that commission largely is toothless. Traditionally, the commission has been an ally of the state’s public colleges. However, recently, it has used its bully pulpit to criticize the admissions and spending policies of some S.C. colleges.