January 2020 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
New Year’s resolutions typically firm our resolve to undertake some form of self-improvement. Getting in shape, reading more, and improving your finances come to mind.
This year, how about doing something that will be good for you, your community and South Carolina. Be counted in the federal census!
Once the census is completed the U.S. government uses the data to divide among the states as much as $675 billion in federal funding. So there’s a real dollars and cents impact of not filling out the census form. According to The Post & Courier the 2000 census undercounted South Carolina’s population by about 48,000 people. Over the last decade the state missed out on $60 million in federal funding.
Another way to look at it is that each South Carolina resident not counted represents $2,900 in federal funds that will go to other states.
In South Carolina, state funding to localities is distributed on a per capita basis. Unlike the federal government, the state can’t print money, so the pie of funding is fixed. If the population of one county grows, it will get a bigger slice, but other slices will get thinner. If you want your roads to get fixed, fill out the census.
College towns, particularly those in rural and less populated areas, recognize that SCICU colleges and universities can have an outsized impact on the local population because students can declare the campus as their permanent residence. Campus participation in the census is a way of being a good neighbor. Following is a link that answers questions regarding campuses, students, and the census: https://censuscounts.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/GCPI-ESOI-College-and-Universities-fact-sheet-20191203.pdf.
Census data will not impact representation for the 2020 election, but will be used for redistricting for the following 10 years. How many congress members South Carolina gets, who they will be and which legislators will represent you in D.C. and Columbia, all depends on the census.
Two important facts about the 2020 census:
You can fill it out the census online. While students living on campus will be contacted by administrators, the rest of us will receive a paper copy in the mail, but you’ll be able to complete it online or by phone.
No citizenship question. Pursuant to a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer, the Census Bureau has decided not to ask the status of citizens.
The following is a 2020 timeline provided by the Census Bureau:
- January 21: The U.S. Census Bureau starts counting the population in remote Alaska. The count officially begins in the rural Alaskan village of Toksook Bay.
- March 12 – 20: Households will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone, or by mail.
- March 30 – April 1: The Census Bureau will count people who are experiencing homelessness over these three days. As part of this process, the Census Bureau counts people in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at non-sheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.
- April 1: Census Day is observed nationwide. By this date, every home will receive an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census. Once the invitation arrives, you should respond for your home in one of three ways: online, by phone, or by mail. When you respond to the census, you’ll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020.
- April: Census takers will begin visiting college students who live on campus, people living in senior centers, and others who live among large groups of people. Census takers also begin conducting quality check interviews to help ensure an accurate count.
- May – July: Census takers will begin visiting homes that haven’t responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.
- December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.
So fill out the census. Even if you get to the end of 2020 and you haven’t run a marathon, polished off War and Peace, or retired early, you’ll enjoy the sense of accomplishment of having done something important for all of us.
December 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I bet we’ve all seen posts online about how to handle difficult topics that are raised during holiday parties.
In that vein, you should be prepared to engage someone with strong, but misplaced, opinions regarding higher education. My standard response to any statement with which I take exception is, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” It’s disarming – you’re not directly disagreeing with the person – and you’ll no doubt find out where they’ve gone astray. The answer often is akin to “Well, everyone knows that…”
Here are three misconceptions you might hear and how you might turn the conversation into a learning moment.
“College is too expensive.”
My glib response is, “You’re not worth it?” More diplomatically, I might observe that half the students attending SCICU colleges and universities are Pell eligible, meaning the most economically disadvantaged. If they can attend, that “sticker price” isn’t really an impediment. SCICU member institutions put up nearly $300 million of institutional scholarships and grants with the goal of putting college within reach of all students.
“Student loans are out of control.”
I wrote a whole column about student loan myths, but a thought-provoking answer is, “The median student loan at SCICU colleges and universities is $27,000. Now, suppose I asked you to take out a loan for $27,000 and invest the money in a way that will pay back about $1 million over the next 35 years, I bet you’d do it.” That’s just what an education at our institutions is worth compared to those who don’t earn a college four-year degree.
“Studying the liberal arts is a waste of time.”
I like to observe that people who study the liberal arts are better, not less, equipped for success in our quickly changing economy. According to Dell, 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t been invented yet. If you learned to do one thing, you’re future is at risk. But if you’re skilled at thinking critically, adapting, and communicating with others to achieve a goal, you’ll be employed as long as you want to be. And while liberal arts graduates tend to have lower starting salaries than other degrees, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, they catch up by around age 40 – often becoming the managers!
I hope these tips help keep the holidays cordial, and give you the chance to share the gift of knowledge.
Give me a reading assignment. I’d like to know what you think are “must reads.” Any genre. Send me your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I wish all of you the Happiest of Holidays.
Student loan myths
November 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
When it comes to student loans, there are some big, frightening numbers thrown around, like $1.5 trillion in total outstanding debt and 45 million student loan holders. We even hear it’s a national crisis.
But let’s break it down a bit. I used data from credible.com and the federal government to work through four of the student loan myths you may hear:
Myth #1: Student loans are out of control.
Reality: Some of those big numbers you see contain graduate school loans, and those students take out the big loans because they can confidently anticipate getting paid the big bucks – average grad school student loan debt is $84,300. In fact only 6.2% of borrowers owe $100,000 or more, but they constitute about one-third of the total outstanding debt. That’s $500 billion! On the other end nearly 36%, more than one-third, owe less than $10,000
Myth #2: Every student takes out a loan.
Reality: Looking at the statistics provided by the federal government at collegescorecard.ed.gov, the median percentage of students at SCICU member institutions who take out loans is just over two-thirds, at 69%. That’s certainly a large number, but almost one-third – or 9,300 students – don’t have student loans. And the average debt of $26,943 is well below the national average for private colleges, $32,600.
Myth #3: A college education is not worth the student loan.
Reality: This is the most pernicious falsehood, considering the return. If I were to suggest you take out a loan to invest about $27,000 that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, will pay back about $1 million over the next 35 years, I bet you’d do so. And that’s just what an education at our institutions is worth compared to those who don’t earn a college four-year degree.
Myth #4: Student loans are the largest source of financial aid.
Reality: Our SCICU institutions provide more support through scholarships and grants than any other source, including student loans. Fully $300 million comes from our colleges and universities to support their students. Many thanks to those individuals, organizations, and corporations whose generosity makes this support possible.
My point is not to diminish the serious decision of taking out student loans nor that they can impose a serious burden on individuals and families. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that SCICU institutions are in the business of equipping their students for rewarding futures. Attending them is a smart investment.
And on behalf of the SCICU staff, let me wish all of you a very Happy Thanksgiving.
My first year
October 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
October 29th will mark my first year as President & CEO of SCICU.
I used my president’s report at the SCICU board meeting earlier this month to reflect on that year. I talked about where we were, where we are and where we’re going.
Where we were –
When I started at SCICU we were blessed with strong leadership, and I’m fortunate that remains the case. The presidents had command of their campuses and the SCICU board included experienced and dedicated members who provided me with guidance and support.
The SCICU staff, all three of them, showed themselves to be overachieving in what we accomplish as an organization. The office was well managed, our fundraising was very successful and we enhanced our profile through publications like the Statistical Abstract and the College Guide.
SCICU boasted a solid reputation in both Columbia and Washington D.C. Every public official I spoke with held SCICU institutions in high esteem.
Where we are –
In this year’s session of the General Assembly we achieved significant success with our advocacy for the Tuition Grants Program, which received the full $1.6 million requested by the Tuition Grants Commission. I have emphasized collaborating with all sectors of higher education – as I supported their efforts they supported ours. I know members of the General Assembly very much appreciated our all working together.
We enjoyed putting together trustee appreciation receptions across the state, which gave our board members the chance to interact with one another and our campus presidents in a less formal atmosphere. The receptions also gave me the chance to get to know them.
In fundraising we pursued and secured new resources, including a $50,000 Power:ED Grant from the South Carolina Student Loan Corporation, and a $10,000 matching challenge grant from the Council for Independent Colleges.
In communications, we’ve gone digital. We’ve established a social media presence, and produced a digital version of the College Guide, which has been warmly received by guidance counselors across the state. And we’ve saved several thousands of dollars in printing costs for the College Guide, as well as materials for our Board of Trustees meetings.
Where we’re going –
As we work to support our campuses advancing their missions, we must recognize the daunting challenges they face. Our institutions confront unprecedented competition for a diminishing population of traditional students. At the same time that there are fewer high school students, the number of adult students looking to start or complete a degree is growing rapidly. And all students expect the flexibility provided by technology and online learning.
In my report at the board meeting I also discussed that higher education finds itself questioned as never before. Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, surveys show the public questioning the value of a four-year liberal arts education. And politicians and business leaders are attracted to the immediate gratification of alternative programs of shorter duration. While there is certainly a need for a broad continuum of higher education options, the irony is that most of these same leaders have a four-year degree and would acknowledge their career success would have been impossible without it.
Our job in the next year is to build on the relationships we have with community leaders and public officials so that we can tell the success stories coming out of our campuses and be unabashed in our support of independent higher education.
Back to campus?20 for 20
September 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
I am very proud to report that in my first year as president & CEO of SCICU I have visited the campuses of all 20 SCICU member institutions. I had the opportunity to get a campus tour and sit down with our presidents to hear their experiences and perspectives on the future.
Let me share my top three takeaways from these visits.
Each campus is unique.
Our campuses offer prospective students a rich array of options. They each offer their own palette of academic programming and activities from which their students paint their individual collegiate experience. Students can find the setting in which they’re most comfortable, and thus most likely to succeed.
Of course, one experience we do not offer is the “big campus.” Our institutions are smaller, and that is their great strength. Our students aren’t lost in the crowd. SCICU colleges and universities have the advantage of offering a sense of community from which students draw strength.
All SCICU colleges and universities are deeply committed to their students.
I particularly enjoyed getting campus tours from students. They were all very open about why they chose to come to their particular college or university and conveyed in deeply personal terms how the school was having an impact on them. Each one of them felt special and were deeply appreciative they had the chance to attend their institution of choice. I was amazed how many other students they knew and said hello to as we walked across campus. The presidents, provosts, faculty and staff I met all stressed that the educational, personal, and spiritual development of each and every student is their paramount concern.
This focus on education is certainly not to say that research isn’t important. Faculty members conduct research in their fields that illuminates their teaching. And I was impressed by how often the presidents related to me the extent to which undergraduate students are given the chance to participate in research, often doing work students at other institutions don’t have access to until graduate school. SCICU is proud to support these efforts through our Undergraduate Student/Faculty Research Program, which culminates each year with our annual Research Symposium.
Our campuses are moving forward.
All the presidents stressed to me that they’re not standing still. Not once did I hear, “We’re satisfied and not doing anything different.” Presidents recognize the challenges they face in a rapidly changing higher education environment, and they’re leading change in a manner that reflects the particular values, cultures, and traditions of their respective institutions. They are pursuing new programs to meet student needs, and that includes adult students who are seeking to start or complete a degree or graduate studies. For them, as well as our full-time undergraduates, online courses help them achieve their academic goals. You might think online students are far afield, and, indeed, some never see campus. But many online students are regional to the campus – they prefer a hybrid approach which includes classroom instruction – they want to be able to sit down with a professor should they need to.
Our campuses are also offering new facilities that complement their educational goals. I visited impressive science and arts complexes, as well as new student centers and residences. They all have the goal of supporting students so that they will maximize their college experience.
My campus tours left me humbled by the dedication to the 33,000 students attending SCICU institutions. Everyone associated with them sets a standard I can only hope to meet as we at SCICU work to support their missions.
Back to campus?
August 5, 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez –
In just a few weeks we’ll be welcoming back students for the fall semester. They will be resuming their studies, reconnecting with friends and participating once again in campus activities.
However, there are students who will not be returning, some for good reasons, and others deeply regrettable.
We’re happy that our recent graduates will not be returning. They’re busy applying what they learned to become leaders in their professions and communities.
Other students have internships that take them off campus. This real-world experience will complement their classwork, providing practical context for what they’ve been learning.
Still others will be studying abroad. They will be challenged to move out of their comfort zones by adapting to circumstances and cultures that can be quite different from what they’re familiar with. As students acclimate to their new surroundings they develop a global perspective that is essential for success. According to the state Chamber of Commerce there are 1,200 international companies doing business right here in South Carolina.
Sadly, there are students not returning this fall who would very much like to be. We’re all familiar with students for whom the pressure of adapting to college life created a stress from which they needed relief, while others required time off to address a personal or family tragedy.
Perhaps the largest number not returning confronted unexpected financial problems. That is certainly not to say they were on their own. SCICU institutions are deeply committed to providing the opportunity to all students who aspire to a college education, regardless of their background. In higher education, access is often measured by the percentage of students who qualify for need-based Federal Pell grants. SCICU research indicates fully half of undergraduate students attending SCICU colleges and universities during the 2016-17 academic year were Pell-eligible.
Our campuses do an incredible job of supporting their students. The largest form of student aid is not from the federal or state governments, but from SCICU institutions themselves, who awarded an amazing $297 million to students in the form of scholarships and grants – this is aid that does not need to be paid back.
Despite our best efforts many students tread on financially thin ice. Sadly, just a few hundred dollars may be too great an obstacle to great for these students to overcome.
At SCICU we are very proud to offer our campuses support through the Discretionary Scholarship Program which targets our most economically vulnerable students. Our campuses use the SCICU Discretionary Scholarship Program to help their students address an unexpected financial emergency so they can continue to benefit from an independent college education. With this program, campuses don’t need to hold back funding for emergencies that could be used in the financial aid packages of their students.
In the coming year SCICU will remain dedicated to supporting our member institutions through the Discretionary Scholarship Program and other initiatives so they can remain focused on student success.
May 23, 2019 message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
From my years on college campuses, I know how bittersweet graduation is. We’re happy that our students are opening the next chapters of their lives, confident they are equipped to take on the world. But we’ve spent much time with these extraordinary young people and it’s tough to say goodbye.
I think that special relationship is captured in the word “inspiration.”
Interestingly, the Latin origin of the word “inspiration” means both “blow into” and “breathe in.” Those two meanings capture our experience with our students.
First, our faculty and staff are an inspiration for our students. They are role models who, every day, show our students what’s possible in terms of personal achievement. They are mentors and guides who help students navigate the challenges of college, and demonstrate the sense of duty and service we expect our students to embody.
Second, they inspire students to do their best. They exhort them, they push them, they demand of them, more than students thought themselves possible. Many first-generation college students attend our institutions precisely because they know they will be held to the standard of their abilities, regardless of circumstances. They choose the path that may be more challenging, but offers the greatest reward. And students are secure knowing their mentors will be there to guide them along the way.
Because of the mentorship and encouragement students receive, they are empowered to experience the fulfillment that comes from personal inspiration – a revelation that had eluded them. In a moment of clarity, a concept that had seemed incomprehensible, is suddenly understood, almost simple. But that moment is hard-earned – students put in hours of reading, research, discussion and hard thinking.
These inspirations do not occur solely in the classroom or the lab, but during students’ many experiences at our colleges. By exploring new interests and confronting unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations, they discover things about themselves they didn’t know. These inspirations may reinforce their thinking or take them in entirely new directions. Passions are ignited that become lifelong pursuits.
Now, at graduation, after having served as an inspiration, and driving them to new inspirations, our student will go on to become leaders in their professions, fields of study, and communities. Where once they had breathed in, they will now go on to inspire others.
What a great week!
April 17, 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
In my short tenure as President & CEO of SCICU, I can say with all confidence last week was one of the very high points, showcasing the finest our campuses have to offer – our students and those who teach them.
Last Tuesday I had the honor of accepting Chairman Jerry Govan’s offer to make a presentation to the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus. The legislators were impressed by the diversity our campuses offer. We expand the array of environments in which students, particularly first generation and minority students, can succeed. We add small campuses, faith-based campuses, and our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, known as HBCUs. I also stressed there are seven other SCICU campuses where African-American students make up more than 20 percent of the enrollment. And we demonstrate the importance of diversity on our Board of Trustees, where 32 percent are African-American.
That night we celebrated the SCICU Excellence In Teaching Awards Dinner (Please click here to see a gallery of photos from the awards dinner.). This is our chance to acknowledge the finest teaching at our campuses. This being my first dinner, I was deeply impressed by the show of support for teaching excellence. About 180 attendees, including seven campus presidents, were on hand to honor the award recipients from each of our institutions. Many thanks to the seven campus presidents who joined us.
As I read the profiles of the Excellence in Teaching Award recipients, I was struck by how each professor had a unique approach to teaching, but they all shared a dedication to the success of each and every one of their students.
The next morning was the opportunity for our students to shine at the annual State House Day, which is the culmination of the annual student letter-writing campaign. I thank the campuses for their participation by sending a total of about 100 students who had received support from the South Carolina Tuition Grant Program (Please click here to view a gallery of photos from State House Day.).
We kicked off the morning by honoring Sen. Vincent Sheheen as our 2019 Legislative Champion. Sen. Sheheen has been a steadfast supporter of higher education, including our private colleges and universities, and read from a legislative concurrent resolution designating April 8-12 as SC Independent Colleges and Universities Week. He also shared with the students the impact on legislators of their letter-writing campaign, and for taking the time to personally thank the legislators.
That impact has never been greater! We announced the stunning results of the legislative letter-writing campaign. I’m very pleased to report that our students wrote more than 9,000 letters to their state senators and representatives! That handily beats the previous record of 8,200 letters. And congratulations to Anderson University students for writing the most letters, and Erskine for having the highest percentage participation.
After the ceremony our students and those accompanying them, including Limestone President Darrell Parker, met with legislators and other public officials. The smiles and enthusiasm of our students was matched by that of legislators who were delighted to share time with these students who are making the most of the opportunity provided them by the Tuition Grants Program.
Thanks to the outreach of Coker College President Robert Wyatt, Speaker Jay Lucas acknowledged our students from the floor of the SC House of Representatives. Speaker Lucas asked our students, who were gathered in the House gallery, to stand by college. There were cheers and applause from the legislators for each our campuses.
We concluded the day with a group photo on the steps of the Capitol. What a great image – our students all wearing the colors of their alma maters.
I capped off the week by serving as a delegate at the investiture of Morris College President Dr. Leroy Staggers. Investitures and inaugurations capture the spirit of an institution by honoring its past and traditions while expressing optimism for the future under new leadership. Dr. Staggers’ investiture conveyed his deep ties to Morris, having worked there for 25 years, and his eminent qualifications to guide the college to a bright future.
SCICU campuses were well represented – thanks to the SCICU campus presidents who were also delegates: Dr. Ernest McNealy (Allen), Dr. Roslyn Artis (Benedict), Dr. Dondi Costin (Charleston Southern), and Dr. W. Franklin Evans (Voorhees). Claflin’s President Dr. Henry Tisdale was a distinguished guest and a member of the platform party.
As I look back on last week, I consider myself deeply fortunate to be associated with the SCICU campuses, our visionary leaders, inspiring faculty and the students who benefit from their knowledge and guidance.
March 26, 2019 Message from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of participating in my first SCICU Retreat as president and CEO. I very much appreciate the dedication to SCICU of the college/university presidents and trustees, upon whom I have the good fortune to rely on for their wise counsel.
I entitled our roundtable discussion “Quo Vadis?”, which is Latin for “Where are we going?” I asked the college/university presidents and trustees to think about an inflection curve, which tracks the evolution of an organization. Typically, organizations will grow — up to a point. They inevitably will face new circumstances which, if they adapt, will permit continued growth and even greater success. If they do not respond, they decline.
Following is an illustration:
Considering the organizational experience of our presidents and trustees, I asked them each to mark an “X” where they thought independent higher education — not individual institutions — were on the curve.
Interestingly, virtually everyone put their “X” somewhere within a small circle around the inflection point. They recognized that independent higher education faces an unprecedented period of volatility and change. Any one of demographics, heightened competition, or technology would be considerable to confront, but our colleges and universities face all three, and more when including the increased distrust of higher education generally, and an eroded faith in the liberal arts specifically.
Fortunately the 20 SCICU member campuses have the inspired leadership necessary to move our institutions forward. But they can’t do it on their own. They need all the help they can get.
Together our SCICU trustees are a formidable network and source of support for our campuses. We are grateful for our individual and corporate donors, and to public officials at the state and federal levels who have expressed appreciation for independent higher education in South Carolina.
And in endeavoring to facilitate the efforts of its member institutions, SCICU faces its own inflection point. We must look at our own operation to ensure we are functioning efficiently and applying resources in a manner that will be of greatest benefit to our member institutions. I am committed to charting a course that will adapt our organization to meet the changing needs of the campuses we serve.
February 18, 2019 SCICU federal legislative outlook from President and CEO Jeff Perez — I was fortunate to attend the Washington, D.C. annual meeting and advocacy day of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). Joined by Spartanburg Methodist College President Scott Cochran, we received briefings from NAICU and congressional staffers and spent time on Capitol Hill.Following are my five takeaways from the NAICU annual meeting and advocacy day:
1. The federal budget will very likely be late.
Because of the shutdown, the Executive Budget will be submitted two months late, which makes having a federal budget by October 1 highly unlikely.
2. Any new Title IX rule is still a long way off.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos proposed wide-ranging changes to how institutions of higher education address sexual assault. SCICU signed a letter drafted by the American Council on Education (ACE) in collaboration with NAICU that lays out our concerns with the proposed rule. Along with ours the Department of Education has about 100,000 comments to pore over, and it will be months before they’re done and revising the rule.
3. Sequestration looms.
Several of the speakers expressed fear that the gains made in the last federal budget, e.g. the increase in Pell Grants, will be lost in fiscal year 2020 due to the next round of sequestration. The Budget Control Act of 2011 established ten-year statutory limits on discretionary spending for FY 2012-FY 2021. If discretionary appropriations are enacted that exceed a statutory limit for a fiscal year, across the-board reductions (i.e., sequestration) of nonexempt budgetary resources within the applicable category are required to eliminate the excess spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimated agencies would have to cut $90 billion in 2020 and another $89 billion in 2021, if Congress does not upwardly adjust the spending caps beyond 2019.
4. First PROSPER, now AIM HIGHER.
During the last session, the PROSPER Act was the House Republican version of legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965. The bill, which passed through the Committee on Education and the Workforce when it was chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), focused on simplifying federal aid and expanding the higher education market through deregulation. However, with Democrats taking over the House, and Bobby Scott (D-MA) becoming chair, the focus will move to the Aim Higher Act which Democrats introduced in response to the PROSPER Act. The Aim Higher Act places greater emphasis on securing and expanding student aid. Having announced his retirement, Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is very eager to pass a reauthorization bill on his watch.
5. Earnings by major is coming.
The Department of Education is pressing ahead with adding to their College Scorecard website the median earnings of students – by major – 10 years after enrolling (not graduating) at an institution of higher education. Graduate students are pulled out of the data, and to ensure privacy, institutions (and majors) with fewer than 30 students will not be included. How double-majors, changed majors, and interdisciplinary programs will be addressed is not clear. What is clear is the keen interest of the Department of Education to start posting this data, which does not require rulemaking. Don’t be surprised if they go ahead and include it on the next iteration of the College Scorecard this September. Information for all SCICU member colleges and universities is available on the College Scorecard website.
Independent colleges and universities are well regarded by the South Carolina delegation. President Cochran and I met with Rep. William Timmons (R-SC) who sits on the House Education Committee and its Higher Education Subcommittee. We also met with the staffs of Sens. Graham and Scott. They all spoke highly of independent colleges and universities and recognize their importance to the future of South Carolina.
January 15, 2019 South Carolina legislative outlook from SCICU President and CEO Jeff Perez —
Education reform will be at the top of the SC General Assembly’s agenda during the 2019 legislative session, as will how to spend an additional $1 billion. Including independent higher education in these discussions will be a major part of SCICU’s 2019 advocacy efforts.
In recent sessions the General Assembly has tended to focus on one major issue. Last year, it was addressing SCANA and Santee Cooper’s abandonment of the multi-billion dollar VC Summer nuclear power generation plant. The session before the General Assembly was absorbed with passing an increase to the state gas tax.
There is wide agreement that reforming K-12 education will be at the top of this session’s priorities. During a pre-session meeting with reporters, senators and house members all mentioned the importance of addressing education needs. And in his inaugural address Governor McMaster stated: “We must also commit ourselves to providing the highest quality education for South Carolina’s children if we are to continue to compete in the future for jobs and economic prosperity.” And later, “Being perceived as weak in education is not good. But, being perceived as not committed to fixing it is disastrous. We will fix it…”
Our job will be to work for inclusion of higher education in this education discussion. A focus during this session will be S.298, the “Higher Education Opportunity Act,” sponsored by Senators Vincent Sheheen, Harvey Peeler and others. Sen. Sheheen first introduced this bill last year, and there is broad agreement it will receive significant attention. There is a lot in the bill, including allocating internet sales tax revenues for a special fund for the public universities, in return for which they must cap tuition. It would also bring South Carolina back to a 7-point GPA system, which would reduce the number of students who currently qualify for state merit scholarships. It also increases the CHE Needs-based Scholarship program (of which independent colleges and universities receive 16.5 percent), and setting it and the Tuition Grants Program on a schedule whereby they would receive annual increases matching the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) but no more than 2.75 percent in a year.
This bill is at square one – there will be hearings held that will no doubt result in revisions to S.298. SCICU will be following this bill very closely to ensure that it properly reflects the needs of students attending independent colleges and universities in South Carolina.
Also driving this year’s session is $1 billion dollars – that’s how much additional funding the General Assembly has at its disposal. About half is in non-recurring “one-time” monies that must be spent on facilities or debt reduction. The other half is recurring – once it’s in the budget, it stays in future budgets. Legislators will tell you having more money is harder than a deficit – it’s much easier to say “no” to everyone than try to decide who gets the additional resources. How that $1 billion will be spent will occupy much of the legislators’ attention.
There’s also a new leadership position in the Senate. Because of a change in the state constitution approved by voters in 2012, the lieutenant governor is no longer elected, and thus cannot serve as the President of the Senate and rule on points of order and other procedural matters.
Under new rules approved by the Senate, the position of President of the Senate will now be held by a senator, and the position of President Pro Tempore, previously held by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, has been eliminated. Under the new rules the President of the Senate cannot be a committee chair. Sen. Leatherman opted to remain chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. Sen. Harvey Peeler was unanimously elected the first President of the Senate, and will have a role in the appointments to state boards and commissions.
The wild card in this year’s session may be Santee Cooper, the other owner of the abandoned VC Summer nuclear plant. While the General Assembly no longer needs to deal with the sale of SCANA, the governor would like to sell state-owned Santee Cooper, which holds $4 billion in debt from the failed plant. While the General Assembly has set criteria for weighing proposed buyers, the fate of Santee Cooper employees, and the utility’s ownership of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, would have to be addressed.
I look forward to representing SCICU this session and will provide you with updates as the session progresses.