S.C. Education: The good, the bad and the hopeful

Phil Noble

By Phil Noble

There is probably no other topic that has been the subject of this column more often than education. And the reason is very simple: if we don’t fix education in this state, nothing else really matters.

The road to a prosperous future for South Carolina runs past the school house door.

Unfortunately, in South Carolina this road (like our highways) is full of potholes and in great need of repair after suffering from years of neglect. As a recent US News and World Report ranking showed, overall our state is 50th in education.

This week’s column is about some education milestones on this road to a better future. These milestones are a small sampling of recent education news – some good, some bad and some hopeful.

Requiring Computer Coding for High School Graduation – A bill was recently introduced in the S.C. House of Representatives that would require all students in grades 9 -12 to take courses in computer coding as a requirement for their high school diploma – and it would take effect as soon as 2019. The initial response to the bill, S.C. Computer Science Education Initiative, was very encouraging as it passed the S.C. House by a 106-1 vote.

Today, only one credit in ‘computer science’ is required for graduation but this can be something as basic as keyboarding – a long way for the type of coding skills required by the new legislation. This new initiative is part of what has become a veritable national movement to encouraging high schools to require coding for graduation. It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor that in just three years – in 2020 – there will be a shortage of over one million computer coding jobs in the US. If ever there was a great opportunity for our young people, this is it. 

Mandarin Chinese Language in Schools – Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language on earth and it is now being taught in a handful of South Carolina schools. These language courses are being offered in some Columbia, Charleston, Beaufort, Greenville, Horry and Florence county schools.

The classes range from simple language instructions to immersion programs where students spend up to 75% of the school day hearing nothing but Mandarin in the classroom. And, the grade level of this Mandarin instruction ranges from 4-year-old kindergarten through high school.

Today, only about 2% of our state’s population is Chinese, though it has more than doubled in the last 15 years. But, it’s not about others in South Carolina but the wider world. As the parent of one Mandarin language student said, “Our children are going to have to have to be able to cooperate in a global environment.” He is so right.

The Low Investment and High Cost of Higher Education – A recent Wall Street Journal analysis of higher education investment by the state and the cost of education found some very disturbing trends for our state. South Carolina spends $5,077 on higher education per full-time student, considerably less than the $6,966 nationwide average. While nearly every state has cut higher education spending since the 2008 recession, cuts were especially drastic in South Carolina.

The report found that our state “spends 34.8% less per student today than it did in 2008, more than double the average per-pupil 15.3% spending cut across the country. Plus, overall, our tuition cost per student is $7,812, the 15th highest of the 50 states – and this is just tuition alone.”

Simply spending money on education does not guarantee high quality education, but drastic, radical cuts in education spending do guarantee poor quality education.

Black and White College Graduation Rates – We have all become accustomed to reading stories about how nationally and in South Carolina African Americans students’ graduation rates are substantially below white students. They are, but not everywhere.

According to a recent study by Education Trust, a Washington, DC based advocacy group, the national average of African American graduation rates is 41% or 22% lower than white students. But, three South Carolina schools, Winthrop, Francis Marion and USC Aiken have all flipped the numbers with blacks graduating at rates higher than whites.

At Winthrop, the six-year graduation rates for African Americans is 56.2% and for whites it is 52.7%. At Francis Marion, these numbers are 43.2% for African Americans and 40.5% for whites; and at USC Aiken, African American graduation rates are 42.6% and for whites its 40.8%.

These schools are not cherry picking the most talented African American students as all three enroll a higher percentage of minority students than Clemson, USC Columbia or the College of Charleston.

How do they do it? Francis Marion Presidents Fred Carter says, “It’s offering advice and one to one support, mentoring and tutoring that essentially helps these students through the process.” Winthrop and USC Aiken have similar programs.

These are not rocket science innovations but simple common sense solutions.

The key point is that it can be done – we can lift graduation rates for African American students everywhere in South Carolina. The other colleges and universities in our state need to learn from these good examples.

The bottom line on all four of these stories is simple – as the 50th national ranking documents, we are way, way behind on education in South Carolina. And though we may be making some progress on the right road, we are still a long, long, long way from the ‘prosperous future’ that we want and deserve.

Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University formulated what has become known as Bok’s Law: If you think education is expensive — try ignorance.

We in South Carolina have tried ignorance.


Phil Noble has a technology firm in Charleston, is Co-founder of EnvisionSC and writes a weekly column of the S.C. Press Association. Contact him at phil@philnoble.com and get his columns at www.PhilNoble.com.

Comments are closed.