Opinion Extra

How legislators can invest in SC students, health, community

Members of the USC School of Medicine’s class of 2020 pose after the White Coat Ceremony that marks their entry into the medical profession.
Members of the USC School of Medicine’s class of 2020 pose after the White Coat Ceremony that marks their entry into the medical profession. Provided USC

No state can thrive without a strong public higher education sector. In fact, the University of South Carolina system — our state’s flagship institution, our 180,000 alumni in South Carolina, our more than 50,000 students and world-class faculty and staff — is essential to the economic and overall well-being of the Palmetto State.

This is why hundreds of USC advocates joined me at the State House Wednesday to urge our lawmakers to support higher education, specifically a capital improvement bond bill for higher education.


USC to ask local taxpayers for $15 million for new medical school


This critical bill would provide long-overdue investment in South Carolina’s universities and colleges to modernize facilities; help retain our state’s best and brightest students by offering research and education spaces that are on par with what other states have to offer; and do so in a fiscally responsible way.

Public higher education offers a significant return on investment. Approximately $25 is returned to South Carolina’s economy for every $1 invested in our public colleges and universities. Each year, higher education provides the thousands of graduates that business, industry and health-care providers need to keep our economic engines running. In fact, 70,000 new baccalaureate degree holders will be needed in our state by 2030. Never has a bond bill been more important.

At USC, a bond bill could support an innovative plan to construct a modern facility to serve as the new home for the USC School of Medicine.

The School of Medicine currently resides in buildings at the WJB Dorn Veterans Center that pre-date the creation of the flu shot, the polio vaccine and the practice of blood banking. In fact, they opened just four years after the introduction of penicillin. So when we say the buildings are historic, that’s exactly what we mean.

USC pays a bargain price of $1 per year in rent, but the lease ends in 2030, and the cost will increase significantly to the market rate. Add this to the millions of dollars in needed repairs, and the result is a substantial sum for outdated facilities that no longer meet the needs of our students.

Relocating the USC School of Medicine to the BullStreet development in downtown Columbia will put us near our clinical partner, which will foster close student and faculty collaboration with physicians at Palmetto Health hospitals and the newly formed Palmetto Health-USC Medical Group. And a futuristic research campus — the new medical school is the first step toward a larger health-sciences campus at that location — will offer prominent researchers and practitioners an opportunity to work side-by-side as they improve the health and quality of life for all South Carolinians.

Many South Carolinians suffer from significant health disparities and chronic health risks, and by 2030 health care and social assistance are projected to be the largest employers within the state. USC has the most comprehensive health-sciences research and education in South Carolina, with more than 10 of our programs ranked among the best in the nation. In the past five years, we have graduated more than 5,000 health-care professionals. That positions us to meet the demands of both patients and employers while helping to combat health disparities.

This bond bill will help us establish a health-sciences research campus that will serve as an anchor and a magnet for a myriad of health-related industries. The organizations that spin off from that development will create up to 1,200 new jobs, $180 million in annual economic impact and as much as $9 million in added state and local tax revenue annually — a win-win for the region and the state.

Paying for projects with a bond is similar to paying a home mortgage. It offers South Carolina an opportunity to renew its commitment to education in a financially prudent way. And right now, when borrowing rates are near historic lows, a bond bill for higher education could be passed without increasing taxes or requiring additional general fund appropriations.

We appreciate the support we receive from our elected officials and the public investment that we currently receive. Passing a capital bond bill will signify a renewed and welcome public commitment to higher education. We remain hopeful that this is the year higher education and state government work together toward a substantial investment in the future of our state and region.

Dr. Pastides is president of the University of South Carolina; contact him at pastides@mailbox.sc.edu.