COLUMBIA, SC — The second regular session of the 122nd South Carolina General Assembly will begin on January 9, 2018. SCICU’s Public Policy Committee has prepared the 2018 Legislative Strategic Plan to address issues related to the FY 2018-19 state budget and a long list of pending legislation.
Securing an additional $2.13 million for the Tuition Grants Program is the first legislative priority for SCICU. Tuition Grants are need-based grants available to South Carolina residents who attend in-state, private non-profit colleges or universities. The South Carolina Tuition Grants Commission has requested an additional $2.13 million from the General Assembly in order to increase the maximum individual student award from $3,200 to $3,350 for the academic year beginning in August 2018.
The second legislative priority supports full funding for the state’s merit-based scholarship programs (Palmetto Fellows, LIFE, and HOPE). This year the state merit-based scholarship programs cost an estimated $300 million. These programs are funded primarily by the Education Lottery. Unless changes are made to the programs’ eligibility or award criteria, scholarship funding may have to increase by as much as $20.4 million to accommodate an additional 8,000 students who will qualify under the second year phase-in of the high school grading policy which changed to a 10-point scale from a 7-point scale in 2016.
SCICU also supports the Commission on Higher Education’s request for an increase of $1 million in a need-based grant programs for public college students and $1.5 million for the Partnership Among South Carolina’s Academic Libraries (PASCAL).
The Tuition Grants Commission will present its 2018-19 budget request to the Higher Education Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee on January 9. First-year subcommittee chair Rep. Durham Cole (R-Spartanburg) will be joined by returning subcommittee members Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) and Rep. Mike Sottile (R-Isle of Palms). Rep. Kirkman Findley (R-Columbia) is a new addition to the subcommittee this year.
While revenues have generally been up, new revenue will not be enough to cover the growing demand for government services and programs. In addition to outstanding needs identified by state agencies and public colleges and universities, legacy needs like funding for teacher and public employee pay raises, schools in the I-95 corridor, an underfunded state pension system, and the needs of local governments must be addressed.
Public policy issues competing for legislators’ time and attention include the SCE&G/Santee Cooper nuclear reactor debacle and the on-going investigation into legislator misconduct in office. And in 2018 the Governor and the other Constitutional Offices and all House seats are up for election.
Request for Assistance in Advocacy
SCICU is asking its Trustees and friends of independent higher education to contact their local legislators and solicit support for increased funding for tuition grants and merit scholarships. The 2018 SCICU Legislative Strategic Plan and Priorities and Talking Points are available at https://www.scicu.org/advocacy/.
Students at SCICU member colleges and universities also participate in independent higher education advocacy through their annual letter writing campaign and legislative visits to the SC General Assembly on SC Independent Colleges and Universities Day, this year scheduled for April 11. More details on the letter writing campaign and SC Independent Colleges and Universities Day can be read on the SCICU website.
Tracking Bills of Interest
SCICU also tracks specific bills that may impact independent higher education in South Carolina. The latest Bills of Interest list may be viewed here.