A long-time York County lawyer and state leader is Gov. Henry McMaster’s pick to lead the state on higher education.
McMaster announced Friday former S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes, 65, is the new chairman of the state Commission on Higher Education. A Rock Hill Republican, Hayes represented Dist. 15 in the state senate from 1991 to 2016. The district covers all or parts of Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Tega Cay, Lake Wylie and York.
“Wes Hayes has served the state of South Carolina admirably for years, and, with his decades-long focus on education as a member of the general assembly, he is the perfect person to lead the Commission on Higher Education as the agency continues its bold advocacy on behalf of South Carolina students,” McMaster said in a statement.
Hayes served on the senate education and finances committee during his time in office. Before his time in the senate, Hayes served in the state house for seven years.
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Hayes is a Rock Hill native and an Eagle Scout. He has a law practice in Rock Hill. He has an bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he was class president and battalion commander. He has a law degree from the University of South Carolina. He served five years in the Army and 25 years in the National Guard.
“We have an outstanding higher education system in South Carolina that is vital to our economic development and to our quality of life,” Hayes said. “I appreciate being given the opportunity to work to make our system even better.”
Patrick White, who served on the Fort Mill school board for 16 years, said he served alongside Hayes on several government and civic roles.
“I would be pleased with Wes being put in charge of anything,” White said.
Before leaving the school board, White said he intends to continue work on what he sees as a funding crisis in public education, with money inadequate or inequitable — or both — given current state funding models. Education issues are difficult to tackle in the state, White said, but he is glad Hayes is up for it.
“He’s always led by example and gotten positive results,” White said. “The governor picked a good one.”
Former Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard worked with Hayes on items from federal road funding across the region to city concerns.
“Wes Hayes is a gentleman, and he is a true advocate for people in the state of South Carolina,” Sheppard said. “Gov. McMaster could not have chosen a better person.”
In October, the State newspaper reported former commission chairman Tim Hofferth resigned after pressure from allegations he approved a nearly $91,500 pay raise for the state agency’s interim director.
The commission on higher education began in 1967. It acts as an oversight group on behalf of state lawmakers to almost three dozen public institutions of higher learning.
The commission has 15 members who are appointed by the governor. It consists of at-large congressional district members, and college and university trustees.