Education

Tired of rising college tuition? This SC lawmaker says he has a plan to fix it

FILE: State Sen. Vincent Sheheen in August 2014.
FILE: State Sen. Vincent Sheheen in August 2014. tdominick@thestate.com

A South Carolina lawmaker has a plan to stop college tuition from going up — just don't expect it to get passed this year.

State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, will file a bill to fix what he sees as the four biggest issues in higher education: tuition increasing at "an astronomical, unsustainable rate," colleges recruiting out-of-state students to balance their budgets, fixing campus buildings that have fallen into disrepair and "streamlining a bureaucratic mess."

Sheheen will unveil the proposal — and detail the plan's specifics — Tuesday at an 11 a.m. news conference on the first floor of the State House.

"Broadly, what I'm trying to do in proposing this is freezing tuition growth, disincentivizing growth of out-of-state students and fix taxpayers' crumbling college buildings," Sheheen said. "The goal is to do this over the long term without raising taxes."

The University of South Carolina is aware of the proposal, but is waiting to issue a full statement until after the news conference, spokesman Jeff Stensland said.

"We are very supportive of the concepts and look forward to hearing more tomorrow," Stensland said Monday.

With this being the last week of legislative session and lots of unfinished business, the bill almost certainly won't pass this year. Sheheen said he started meeting with "key senators" and "stakeholders" in November 2017 and is filing the bill late in the session to boost its chances of succeeding when the legislature reconvenes.

"My experience is on major changes in state government, the best way to do it is to launch it in the spring," Sheheen said.

Sheheen's proposal embodies many of the reforms favored by the Commission on Higher Education in its formal list of priorities, dubbed "Student Bill of Rights," which the commission approved last month. The education oversight body called on the state's universities to cap tuition, limit out of state enrollment, increase funding for building maintenance, make course credits transfer more easily between schools and increase transparency in student's fees.

The commission released a statement Monday afternoon from Chairman Tim Hofferth:

“What our commissioners have heard at the seven town hall events we have hosted across the state is that the students and families are struggling to figure out how to pay for college without saddling themselves with crushing student debt," Hofferth said. “We are hopeful that the principles outlined in this document will prompt a discussion ... on how the state will continue to provide high-quality higher education opportunities in an affordable, accessible and sustainable manner.”

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