The Daily Gamecock

Education expert Tom Mortenson talks funding

Tom Mortenson says state leads nation in harmful budget cuts

Tom Mortenson took his time Wednesday night blatantly describing South Carolina’s handling — or the lack thereof — of its education.

“You’re really cheap and stingy when it comes to fecundating government programs that provide the kind of services that we all benefit from, such as higher education,” he said of South Carolina. “You guys don’t like to pay taxes.”

Mortenson, a senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, led a “College Access in South Carolina” discussion at the Ernest F. Hollings Library. Focusing on the state policy’s impact on college participation, Mortenson criticized South Carolina for leading the rest of the country in falling behind.

“Since 1975, you’ve lead the downward slide in state support,” he said. “You’ve cut your state investment effort in higher education by about 70 percent.”

And if the trends in place over the last 35 years continue, South Carolina’s last dollar will be given to higher education in 2031, Mortenson estimated.

“We will have zeroed out in state investment in higher education,” he said.

Mortenson said that the state’s high school graduation rate, the foundation for college access in his opinion, was at 53.6 percent in 2008, down from 68.8 percent in 1981. Through that time period the United States’ rate fell from 72.1 percent to 70.3 percent.

“It is very clear, compared to the national average, that South Carolina has a relatively low high school graduation rate,” he said. He did commend South Carolina for being a “national leader” for getting high school graduates into college. Still, he said, the high school graduation rate causes South Carolina to lag in the nation.

Mortenson complained that higher tuition rates narrow the likelihood of students from low-income families finishing college nationwide.

“A student from the top quartile of family income, a student who was born by luck of the draw at birth has a 75 percent chance of [achieving] a bachelor’s degree by age 24,” he said. “If you’re from the bottom quartile, then your chance is less than 8 percent.”

Mortenson provided his own solutions at the end of his talk.

“If the state is seriously committed to increasing its education rates among its residents, it must, it absolutely must, increase high school graduation rate,” he urged. “The affluent are going to have to fare for themselves and pay a larger share of the cost of higher education.”