South Carolina State athletics could be shutdown for the next two years after a state House budget panel voted Tuesday to suspend school operations to help alleviate the university’s mounting debt.
The state’s only historically black public college has a $10 million deficit from unpaid bills to food and maintenance vendors. S.C. State’s enrollment has dropped sharply in recent years and just 14 percent of students graduate within four years.
The vote by the House panel that oversees funding for state colleges is the culmination of frustration over S.C. State’s finances, said Rep. Jim Merrill, a Berkeley Republican who heads the panel.
The plan calls for the school to close for the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years.
Under the plan, the state would fire all school employees, who would then have to reapply for their jobs.
The state would fire the school administration, board of trustees, faculty and staff under the proposal.
“Even if the proposal to suspend operations fails in the Legislature, S.C. State is being damaged by it,” school president Thomas Elzey told The State.
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The state would need to work out terms to repay $7.5 million in loans it has given to S.C. State as well as an estimated $100 million in bonds that the school holds. The state would assume responsibility for the S.C. State’s debt.
The proposal also would halt SCSU athletics programs during the school’s closure, which would begin July 1.
Democrat Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who voted against the proposal, said the university failed to provide accurate information to the subcommittee.
“Today’s vote signals the frustration the subcommittee has experienced with South Carolina State University’s administration and its failure to provide accurate and timely responses to requests for information that addresses the University’s fiscal issues and the administration’s plan to resolve them.”
South Carolina State officials urged supporters in a statement to “stay calm” and reinforced “several legislative hurdles must be cleared before the provision is enacted.”
“The SC State University family is vowing to fight to kill the bill,” according to the statement. “Supporters are encouraged to contact South Carolina legislators and Gov. Nikki Haley to advocate for SC State University.”
“It’s damaging our ability to attract students and damaging our ability to raise money,” Elzey said “It’s creating a problem for the university in the message that it sends.”