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S.C. governor pushes college funding reforms

Graduates attend the 2012 George Washington University Commencement at National Mall in Washington, D.C.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley wants to change the way her state funds colleges and universities. At a conference yesterday, she said it should be tied to graduation rates.

Haley wants schools to work harder to keep graduates in-state, and she says school administrators need to work more closely with businesses to get graduates jobs. Haley suggests that when a university president submits his budget request, lawmakers should ask themselves some basic questions: “What is the graduation rate? What are we doing to make sure that every student that graduates has a job? What are they doing for economic development?”

That last one caught Frank Hefner’s attention. He teaches economics at the College of Charleston.

“There is sort of a general sense in this current governor’s administration that everything has to be tied to some kind of economic development mission,” Hefner says. “And if it’s not, then they’re not interested in funding it.”

Over the last two decades, South Carolina has been successful, convincing businesses to move there, but Haley says too many students don’t graduate or leave the state, looking for work. Hefner says the state should reevaluate how it allocates funding, but it needs to take the long view. He worries about how the governor’s plan could change the College of Charleston, where he teaches. It is a liberal arts school.

“We can’t all become vocational educational institutions,” Hefner says.

Amanda Griffith, assistant professor of economics at Wake Forest University, says this could lead to changes in how the academy is structured: “You know, if that’s what’s being incentivized is, only engineering, or only economics in a particular area, you might find some fields sort of fall by the wayside.”

Hefner remembers what a colleague once told him, that “professors educate students for their last job, not their first.” With Gov. Haley’s plan, that mission could change.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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