Is South Carolina State Headed For Trouble? Again?

Years removed from a legislative effort to close the campus for two years to rid it of administrative corruption, debt, and bad press, South Carolina State University may be facing far less controversy but a similar measure of urgent questions about its sustainability.

The school was recently cleared to offer online degree programs, but in the coverage of this academic win, some significant issues were revealed by Clark. From the T&D:

Clark said the university has a fairly comprehensive wish list of repairs and upgrades totaling about $44 million but doesn’t currently have a master plan.

Clark also said that as the university has been getting its affairs in order over the past two years, there really hasn’t been any active marketing of the university.

“I take the blame,” he said.

That news came as details emerged about this fall’s enrollment projections.

Clark reported that fall 2018 enrollment stands at 1,861, with 1,643 undergraduates and 218 graduates planning to attend the university as of July 12, 2018. Fall 2017 enrollment was 2,070, with 1,885 undergraduates and 185 graduates.

The enrollment statistics are essential, as SCSU may be one of the institutions most harmed by a recent proposal issued by the state’s higher education commission on limiting the number of out-of-state students enrolled in SC public colleges and universities.

That proposal matches up with recent data from the school, which shows an uptick in the enrollment of in-state, first-year students but a significant drop in the number of students enrolling from outside of South Carolina.

A drop in that area could reduce much-needed tuition revenues to counter budget cuts and cost-saving measures the school has adopted to avoid drastic layoffs and program cuts.

Three years ago, legislators advanced a proposal to shut down the school but instead kept the school open and replaced its entire board of trustees. At the time, the narrative was that falling enrollment, and institutional debt could only be managed by revoking the school’s semblance of leadership autonomy and replacing it with voices and vision instituted by lawmakers throughout the statehouse and governor’s office.

Clark was among that hand-picked new board of trustees and was elevated to president in June 2016. Since then, the school has beautified the campus and received more than $1 million during alumni reunion events.

The school has also created degree pipelines with several of the state’s community and technical colleges and secured significant cancer research funding.

But SCSU remains without a master plan for facilities and technology, and without a strategic plan. The last version was created in 2014, and a view of the school’s progress on its goals in 2015 showed gains in applications to the university and student retention, but challenges in enrolling students and student research access.

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Policy and performance appear ready to collide at South Carolina State, even as the school is making changes in critical areas. It may not look as bad as it did just five years ago, but the data driving the potential for an un-pretty picture remains as clear as it did during the university’s darkest hour.