Sanford is naive about USCL

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By The Staff

It’s no surprise that Gov. Mark Sanford’s proposal in his latest budget to close the University of South Carolina at Lancaster hasn’t picked up much support here. It’s probably not much of a surprise that the proposal hasn’t picked up much steam in the Legislature, either.

Sanford argued several years ago that the state had too many state-supported colleges and some of them needed to close. But his argument failed to gain traction in the Legislature then and it hasn’t gained much there now, even with the economy in its worst shape in decades.

We don’t think Sanford is naive. Surely, he knew that Lancaster County residents would react unkindly to his proposal to shutter its only college. And that people in Union would feel the same way about USC-Union, and that people in Allendale and Walterboro would feel the same way about USC-Salkehatchie. Sanford has proposed closing those USC branches, too.

Surely, Sanford also knew his proposal would be a tough sell to lawmakers, considering their reaction the last time. But Sanford clearly wants a debate. His argument is the state spends too much money on higher education and that this system needs to be streamlined.

The savvy politician with a sense of theatrics (remember, he once carried two squealing pigs to the Statehouse to make a statement about pork-barrel spending) may already know where the chips will fall on this one.

Perhaps Sanford, who is often mentioned in the national media as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012, is making this unpopular proposal just to be able to say he was willing to stick his neck out. Maybe he thinks that will sell well on the national campaign trail. Who knows?

Whatever the case, we do question whether Sanford really understands the value of regional colleges. We wonder if he understands that USCL and regional colleges like it have given many South Carolinians the opportunity to go to college that they wouldn’t have otherwise have had. It’s a difficult number to quantify, but we know there are many, many people in Lancaster County (and Chester County, too) who never would have made it to college if USCL had been here, with affordable tuition.

We also have to wonder if Sanford understands that USCL is a standard-bearer among USC’s regional campuses. Shortly before Sanford announced his proposal, USC President Dr. Harris Pastides called USCL “a shining star” in USC’s system. And after Sanford announced his proposal, state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, R-District 16, said he wasn’t worried about USCL closing its doors because it was model of efficiency in the state’s higher education system.

Perhaps the governor, a native of the lowcountry, is naive about how much THIS community supports USCL. That was demonstrated well last month when Big Thursday Inc. of Lancaster of gave record checks to both USCL and Clemson University – $17,750 for each school – for scholarships. Money for the scholarship fund is raised from a golf tournament held in November, and corporate, business and individual sponsors who support the fund.

Even more support of USCL was shown when the Springs Close Foundation announced it was giving $500,000 toward the construction of a new – that’s right, a new classroom building – on the USCL campus. USCL also unveiled a rendering of the new building, which will cost between $6 million and $6.5 million. USCL would like to open the building in three or four years. The building is part of USCL’s masterplan for growth, which was announced more than a year ago. USCL already has about $2 million raised for the new building.

That USCL is moving forward on its expansion plans shortly after Sanford announced his proposal is a powerful statement. It’s a statement of how much people here think the governor is wrong  – that people here want the campus to grow instead of close, that people here are putting their money where their mouths are and that people here just don’t believe Sanford’s proposal will fly.