University of South Carolina Lancaster on the chopping block

Written by: Trent Faris

LANCASTER, SC (WBTV) - Higher education may soon fall victim to state budget cuts in South Carolina.  Governor Mark Sanford's 2009-2010 budget cuts costs by closing three of his state's two-year colleges.   The three are USC Lancaster along with USC's Salkehatchie and Union campuses.  Good for the budget, but locals in Lancaster County who say closing the campus could be disastrous for their community.

"This is an economic impact crisis we're sitting on," says Dean Faile at the Lancaster County chamber of Commerce.  Faile believes closing the doors at USC Lancaster would be a punch to the gut of a county already licking it's wounds economically.

The school employs close to 400 people and has an economic out put of almost 26 million dollars a year, but that's not the biggest concern.

"Taking students with no opportunity to receive an advanced degree when we all know future jobs require some post secondary education. So I think the long term effects on this community would ever stop being felt," says Faile.

USCL has around 1,200 full time students. The school has the highest graduation rate of any two year school in the USC system.  USCL receives half as much state funding as USC Sumter, and 60 percent of what USC Salkehatchie and Union receives.

"If you want to talk about reform USCL needs to be the poster child of reform. How are we doing it with half the funding better than anybody else," says Faile.

Michael Clark is from Lancaster and is in his second year at USCL. He says the school is a great gateway for folks who couldn't get into a larger school because of grades or money.

"If they close this place down this is all the county has right now so if you close this down Lancaster has nothing," says Clark.

In 2007, nearly half of USC Lancaster's 1,600 students were from Lancaster County.  Almost all the others were from the immediately surrounding counties.