Lawmakers: Pass the Higher Education Bond Bill
By Dr. Ben P. Dillard
Florence-Darlington Technical College
Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) and the South Carolina Technical Education System have a long history of providing qualified graduates to South Carolina business and industry. These graduates are vital to a thriving economy and to the state’s future economic development. In fact, without the contributions of technical college graduates during the past 50+ years, South Carolina would undoubtedly be an economic wasteland today and would lack a roadmap to the future.
FDTC recently celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing access to education to the citizens of South Carolina’s Pee Dee region. It has grown through the years from a 10-acre campus and a mere 250 students to a 246-acre campus with more than 6,200 students today. It now offers more than 75 degree, diploma, and certificate programs in a host of technological, scientific, engineering, medical, manufacturing, and business fields. The skilled graduates of FDTC’s many programs are a prominent key to what we all hope is the Pee Dee area’s future prosperity.
This future, however, is in danger of being derailed. FDTC has always been able to respond with flexible solutions to the workforce needs of area business and industry, but many years of declining funding and shrinking revenues have forced FDTC to defer many of its operational and capital improvement needs for year upon year. FDTC’s main campus was largely built in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was designed to support a maximum enrollment of around 4,200 students. The impact of revenue declines in recent years has severely stressed FDTC’s ability to maintain adequate infrastructure, state-of-the-art facilities, and the equipment for training tomorrow’s workers. In the not too distant future, it is my fear that FDTC will find it next to impossible to give Pee Dee students access to a quality higher education (with exposure to the latest technology) at a price that has always been touted for its affordability.
For the reasons listed in the above paragraph, the recently proposed bond bill offers hope to FDTC and South Carolina’s Technical College System as a whole. FDTC’s projects in the bond bill will, in fact, help us to continue our famous ability to shift directions quickly and meet business and industry training needs for skilled workers for tomorrow’s jobs. The bond bill is a great investment in the future employability of Pee Dee area residents and ensures that our citizens have a viable option for being trained to compete in the global marketplace.
South Carolina has a history (between 1968 and 2001) of passing a bond bill every 1.26 years. That period is noted for the rise of the state’s invaluable technical college system, for its move from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and for rapid improvements in the quality of life of many, if not most, of its citizens. By providing for the construction and repair of higher education facilities, bond bills have been crucial to helping our state move forward. It has, however, now been 14 years since the state’s last bond bill. During that time, South Carolina has failed to make a significant investment in the educational future of its citizens. As a result, the last 14 years have been marked by skyrocketing tuition and crumbling infrastructure at the campuses of many state-supported institutions of higher education across the state. It is time for the Palmetto State to secure its future (and keep pace with neighboring states) by once again investing in one of its most significant assets: the South Carolina Technical Education System.
The currently proposed bond bill offers South Carolina an array of advantages. Since South Carolina is one of only five states to have maintained a Moody’s AAA credit rating during the past 40 years, the bond bill does not put this credit rating at risk. In addition, the bill does not require any additional general appropriation and will not raise taxes.
The bond bill’s major advantage is that it will help FDTC and the rest of South Carolina’s Technical Education System to provide quality, skilled workers for tomorrow’s jobs. These workers will make our state more competitive in attracting future industry to the state. The bond bill needs to be passed because it is imperative that South Carolina invest in its future prosperity and that of its citizens.