Governor calls summit on higher education

WEST COLUMBIA, SC (WMBF) - South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford called a summit on higher education Tuesday that brought together leaders from public colleges and universities to discuss the rising cost of tuition.

Sanford cited arguments from several fronts on the question of the accessibility and affordability of higher education during Tuesday's event. He said he believes there are some changes that need to be made so that each person who graduates from high school can afford to go to college in South Carolina.

Various college leaders have argued budget cuts by the state have left them with no choice but to raise tuition in order to retain a high quality of education.

Dr. David DeCenzo, president of Coastal Carolina University, said he would like to see changes to the funding system. He noted Coastal gets the least amount of money from the state among state-supported colleges and universities.

"We actually educate an undergraduate at the lowest cost in the state. We have been running very lean. But we certainly wanted to hear what was being conveyed and we wanted to ultimately be part of the dialog to look for solutions," DeCenzo said. "When you have quality educational programs, people from other states are recognizing the quality at a value, with respect to the tuition."

Dr. Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University, said some have wanted to look at merging programs that are duplicated at other universities. He said that wouldn't be fair to the people of the state, who often look for different types of educational settings.

"It's not that any of us are better or worse than the other. We're different and we're different by choice. In many ways, we serve different constituencies or cultivate those choices," Carter said.

Carter added that Tuesday was a good start to discussions that need to continue among state leaders and university leaders.

"These are the kinds of issues that take a lot of analysis, a lot of focus and some cooperation between policy makers, university officials and parents, and citizens working together to resolve," Carter noted. "So if anything, I think the belt tightening that has to occur among the institutions is going to continue and then I think it's fair game to ask us what are some of the better ways to realize the efficiencies."

Administrators also hope the layers of red tape between the state's higher education system, the legislature and school leaders can be cut down to make things run more efficiently.

Leaders say while Tuesday was a good start to debate and open dialog, it maybe sometime before the issues are completely resolved.

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