Why Does South Carolina State Still Owe a $6 Million Loan?

The state HBCU flagship more than makes up for its past struggles with continuing support to its city.

The state HBCU flagship more than makes up for its past struggles with continuing support to its city.

It seemed like just yesterday when everybody was working hard to save South Carolina State University from an undignified closure at the hands of board corruption and legislative aggression. Part of that effort came from the work of SCSU faculty, who in 2014 released an economic impact study outlining the university’s value to Orangeburg and the state at just over $180 million annually; a number that was more than $30 million over estimates made seven years prior, according to the Times and Democrat.

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Two years later, the state’s flagship historically black institution finds itself in what loosely resembles a better place. The school has budget cut and furloughed its way to fiscal solvency — more than $2 million in the black according to recent reports. It’s accreditation is safe, its enrollment is up, and there hasn’t been a scandal since Gov. Nikki Haley fired and replaced the board last May.

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Debts owed to the state, once exceeding $18 million in support to pay outstanding bills to vendors, have been reduced to $6 million. And that number, while seemingly small against the past crises of SCSU’s financial outlook, in reality shows the kind of predatory approach that South Carolina, and states like it around the country, take in their management of HBCUs.

Any other major business which would promise nearly $200 million in revenues from tourism, taxes and spending would receive lucrative tax breaks to reinvent a city like Orangeburg, where less than 100,000 residents earn about $34,000 per year in median income, and 30 percent live below the poverty line.

We’ve seen it before, and recently in other HBCU cities. In September, Baltimore City Council members approved a $660 million bond plan to support a massive development project that could bring more than 26,000 jobs to the city.

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In Houston, voters recently approved more than $4 billion in capital projects involving educational and environmental improvements. The contracting opportunities for small and minority-owned businesses could be an economic driver for the city.

So why is it that South Carolina State, the state’s most comprehensive four-year institution designed to serve its broadest cross-section of students from diverse backgrounds, remains on the hook for a $6 million loan rung up, in part, because of the state’s continuing divestment in higher education? South Carolina posts as the fourth-worst in the nation at its reduction of per-student spending since 2008.

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It doesn’t add up at multiple levels. The state forgives $12 million but leaves six large behind. It lauds the institution for fiscal health, but the road to that solvency claimed dozens of jobs and several campus facilities; and this is before Gov. Haley called for state schools to do their part to survive an $86 million budget cut.

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SCSU hasn’t always done better, but it will always deserve better for what it can offer to Orangeburg and the south in the way of training future leaders in a variety of industries. But for all of the ways it tries to feign support for the school, it’s clear that the state of South Carolina has many country miles to go in recognizing the economic and social benefits it has always had, in a school it has never really wanted to support.