South Carolina

Will new higher ed overseer end drama between agency, Legislature and colleges?

Is it possible for USC tuition to not increase this year?

In his State of USC address, president Harris Pastides said he doesn't want to raise tuition this year.
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In his State of USC address, president Harris Pastides said he doesn't want to raise tuition this year.

Wes Hayes wants a fresh start for the state’s higher education oversight body.

Hayes, the newly appointed chair of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education and former SC senator, told The State he wants to take a more collaborative approach to an agency that has often found itself at odds with the colleges it regulates.

“I believe the only way to deal with problems in higher education is by building consensus in the Legislature and also with schools,” said Hayes, a Republican from Rock Hill. “Tuition is high, but the best way to deal with that is by consensus building.”

Hayes’ predecessor, Tim Hofferth, was an outspoken critic of college spending he saw as excessive and recruitment plans he saw as unsustainable. Hostility between colleges reached its apex in late October when controversy erupted over Hofferth giving a $91,500 raise to the then-interim-executive director Jeff Schilz.

The controversy led Sen. Hugh Leatherman, Senate president pro tempore, to call for an audit of the commission. Rep. Brian White, an Anderson Republican who chaired the House Budget Committee, also called for an audit.

Hofferth and Schilz both resigned following the controversy. At the agency’s Thursday meeting, Commissioner Ken Kirkland said the agency is “complying and getting information back to Senator Leatherman as fast as possible.”

Former commission chair Dalton Lloyd said Hayes’ approach is likely to get things done.

“I found out real quickly to get things done, you have to work with the presidents of the colleges,“ Lloyd said. “That doesn’t mean you do things they want all the time...It’s a regulatory agency, so you had to do things that were better for higher education and not necessarily one school.”

Though the commission butted heads with colleges, they were on the same page about a bill called the Higher Education Opportunity Act, spearheaded by Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, that would increase college funding in return for capping tuition increases.

Hayes, whom Gov. Henry McMaster appointed to the position a week ago, said he has not yet read the bill, but his “initial reaction is positive.”

“That’s an example of the way to deal with this,” Hayes said.

Lucas Daprile has been covering the University of South Carolina and higher education since March 2018. Before working for The State, he graduated from Ohio University and worked as an investigative reporter at TCPalm in Stuart, FL. There, where he won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for his political and environmental coverage.