The state agency that weakly oversees S.C. colleges will lose its authority to review plans for new athletics stadiums, parking garages, dorms or building renovations.
The move, approved by state budget negotiators Wednesday, is part of the state budget that takes effect July 1.
Some college leaders – including the presidents of the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the Medical University of South Carolina – had asked lawmakers to limit the Commission on Higher Education’s “redundant oversight” of construction projects, saying they can police themselves.
The move means that, in the future, at least 70 percent of the projects that the commission now reviews instead will go straight to other state boards for approval, commission leaders have said.
Commission chairman Tim Hofferth said the move was the wrong one at the wrong time.
CHE approved $3.7 billion in college building projects over the last decade, Hofferth said, adding, in the past, the agency did too little vetting of that spending. “We’ve got skyrocketing costs and crippling student debt. Now is not the time for less oversight.”
After July 1, the colleges’ plans will be submitted through the Department of Administration directly to the Joint Bond Review Committee, made up of lawmakers, and State Fiscal Accountability Authority, a five-member board including two lawmakers, the governor, state treasurer and state comptroller general.
The future and role of the Commission on Higher Education long has been debated.
Critics say the agency needs to be strengthened — given more regents-like powers — so it can weed out expensive duplication among S.C. public colleges.
However, many legislators view local colleges as jobs projects and are reluctant to rein them in. Colleges also have resisted closer scrutiny.
In 2015, the S.C. House moved to strip the commission of all its funding.
At the time, House members were furious at the financial implosion of S.C. State University. House members argued the state agency was advocating for colleges, instead of regulating them.
The commission also angered other lawmakers last year by refusing to approve an expansion of Coastal Carolina’s football stadium. Eventually, legislators overruled the commission, permitting the expansion.