Local institutions are cautiously optimistic about Gov. Nikki Haley’s proposal to link accountability to funding for higher education, but they are waiting to see the details.
Enhancing accountability in education and linking it to funding has been an ongoing discussion in South Carolina for more than a year and a half. At Haley’s request, last fall the S.C. Commission on Higher Education presented the governor with suggestions on a funding system or formula that takes into account the percent of in-state students, retention and graduation rates and job placement, said Julie Carullo, acting executive director of CHE.
At the Governor’s Public Higher Education Conference in Columbia on Wednesday, Haley told legislators, and education and business leaders she is still working toward such a system.
University of South Carolina Upstate Chancellor Tom Moore said such a system has the potential to be good for the school, which has one of the lowest allocations of public funding per in-state student in its class of institution, but one of the highest rates of students graduating each year. This year, USC Upstate received $8.2 million in state funding for 5,164 in-state students .
“In terms of producing degrees efficiently, we are at the top of the heap,” Moore said. “Any system that really gets at that, we win.”
The concern is how to get to it. Although the federal government requires higher education institutions to report cohort graduation rates, the statistics can be misleading and fail to produce a thorough picture because of transfers and re-enrollments. Similarly, certain statistics can be bolstered by selective admissions that are counter-productive to the state’s other goal of boosting overall education, Carullo said.
Task forces are working to determine what the measurements should be, as well as the limitations of those measurements, she said.
Without seeing the details, Henry Giles, incoming president at Spartanburg Community College, said he was in favor of what it seems Haley is trying to achieve.
“We certainly are for accountability, so it seems like something we would be able to support and work with,” he said.
In the past several years, Giles said SCC’s state funding has been cut by more than 50 percent, at a time when their enrollment has increased an average of 6 percent annually.
Giles said he, along with other education leaders at the conference, encouraged Haley and legislators to postpone the new system until new money was available to fund it, and so money could be added to institution’s allocations for meeting benchmarks instead of being moved from one cash-restricted school to another.
“We’re already at that base level of funding,” Giles said. “We have been running real tight for the last four or five years.”
Legislators, however, said little new money would be available in the next several years, according to Giles.
“It’s going to be interesting to watch the General Assembly and what comes from them to the governor,” he said. “Accountability is a good idea, if something good comes out of it.”