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USC president: Do not pit K-12 against higher education

Blaze, the fireant mascot from USC Sumter; Cocky, the gamecock mascot from USC Columbia; Finnegan, the sandshark mascot from USC Beaufort and Ace, the pacer mascot for USC Aiken, pose for pictures in the lobby of the S.C. State House for Carolina Day.
Blaze, the fireant mascot from USC Sumter; Cocky, the gamecock mascot from USC Columbia; Finnegan, the sandshark mascot from USC Beaufort and Ace, the pacer mascot for USC Aiken, pose for pictures in the lobby of the S.C. State House for Carolina Day. ccope@thestate.com

University of South Carolina mascots – a Sumter fire ant, Columbia gamecock, Aiken pacer and Beaufort sand shark – posed for pictures in the State House lobby Wednesday as representatives of the state’s flagship university lobbied legislators to spend more taxpayer money on higher education.

State spending on higher education has been in the spotlight since Gov. Nikki Haley asked lawmakers in her State of the State address to focus on fixing K-12 schools instead of giving more money to the state’s colleges.

But USC president Harris Pastides said Wednesday legislators should not choose between K-12 education and higher education. Instead, they should think of education as a spectrum that starts at pre-kindergarten and can continue through graduate school.

“Please don’t pit K-12 against (higher education),” Pastides later told USC advocates at a luncheon.

Higher education is a vital part of the state’s infrastructure, Pastides said acknowledging there are other state budget needs, including roads, bridges, health care, prisons and tourism.

USC’s Columbia campus is asking state lawmakers for an additional $96.3 million in state money this year, including $50 million to jump-start a new $200 million health-care campus for its medical school.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, has introduced a proposal to turn South Carolina’s public four-year colleges into private, non-profit institutions.

"You can’t take the University for South Carolina and send it off privately," Pastides responded.

Even though state spending on higher education is down since the Great Recession, USC still gets about 10 percent of its budget from the state, money that goes to support students, Pastides said.

Pitts’ proposal — which would privatize Clemson University and other S.C. schools as well — is not expected to go far.

Public higher education plays a major role in South Carolina’s economic development and quality of life, said state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, whose district includes the university’s Columbia Campus.

Courson is chairman of the state Senate panel that helps decide spending on colleges in the state budget.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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