By Ashley Heffernan
Published Sept. 22, 2015
South Carolina’s technical college presidents remain divided over a funding model for their institutions, but they agreed Monday on a plan to review it.
The S.C. Technical College System’s Council of Technical College Presidents voted to create a committee to develop a method for disbursing money to the 16 technical colleges before fiscal year 2017 begins in July.
Thornley and Trident’s area commissioners have been vocal about their disdain for the current funding model, which distributes money from the General Assembly to colleges based on their enrollment figures from fall 2003.
She said it’s unfair to growing colleges, like Trident Tech, which has seen enrollment figures jump from 11,791 in 2003 to 16,136 in 2014.
In fall 2014, Trident Tech received $878 per student from state appropriations, the lowest amount of the 16 system colleges, according to Trident Tech data. Williamsburg Technical College received $1,825 per student — the largest of any school in the system.
Thornley said the current model rewards colleges that have not increased enrollment since 2003.
“We need to see a formula that looks more substantially to enrollment because what it amounts to is if you have not grown you have fared better. You have more dollars available to serve your existing student body if you have not grown,” she said.
Eight of Trident Tech’s nine area commissioners, including The InterTech Group CEO Anita Zucker, whose company is headquartered in North Charleston, made the trip to West Columbia to support Thornley’s push for a change.
“I’m concerned that the current funding model is based on numbers that are 12 years old, a snapshot of enrollment in 2003-2004. I know of no successful business model that looks back at 12 years to determine funding for current needs,” Zucker said, adding that the technical college system is one of the most important assets to the state.
“You provide the workforce, all of you together, that impact our state, including my own businesses,” she told the council. “We must plan for and provide resources for today’s world.”
Thornley made a motion to create a funding model based substantially on enrollment numbers, but the presidents amended the motion, eliminating Thornley’s funding model. Instead the motion directed the new committee to suggest a model but gave no instruction on how to determine it.
Ronnie Booth, president of Tri-County Technical College, said that Thornley’s emphasis on enrollment is too prescriptive and that the previous changes were made to the formula because the recession was threatening to shut down Williamsburg Technical College, Denmark Technical College, Northeastern Technical College, Aiken Technical College and Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
“If we continued with a purely enrollment-driven formula, we’d slowly starve them to death,” he said.
Booth went on to say that changing to an enrollment-based formula would create more inequity and threaten those schools again. He also criticized public discussions of the funding formula prior to the meeting and said he didn’t appreciate being “preached to by the entire board.”
“I think we have to look at the formula, and we have to look at it in a way that’s equitable. It’s not about Trident; it’s not about Tri-County; it’s not about Greenville,” Booth said. “I’m really distressed that this was taken public, and I take offense to that. I’ve lost employees because they took private arguments public. I think our meeting here today is a bit of a circus, and I don’t like that. I believe we could have gotten to the same place with a different conversation.”
Neyle Wilson, president of Horry-Georgetown Technical College and chairman of the Council of Technical College Presidents, will appoint the members of the new committee.
“I will just say this: You can have a vote of a thousand to one, and it doesn’t make that vote right,” Thornley said after the meeting.
Funding by student, fiscal year 2014-15
Tech College of the Lowcountry
Central Carolina Tech
Source: Trident Technical College
Fall ’14 students
Funding per student
Reach staff writer Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyBHeff on Twitter.