Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier
Colleges' spending on bells and whistles is a misplaced priority
Students attend college to learn and to become more marketable in the search for a career, not for the brand-new buildings or the superfluous bells and whistles.
They benefit from highly trained, motivated professors and small class sizes, not from cutting-edge classroom technology and new carpet.
They need affordable tuition so that any loans can be paid back in a reasonable amount of time even at relatively low starting salaries.
But leaders at too many of South Carolina's colleges and universities have long had their priorities misplaced.
Collectively, the state's 38 public colleges have invested massive amounts of tuition dollars and public funds over the past several years in opulent new amenities while placing an ever-increasing financial burden on students and their families.
Not surprisingly, South Carolina students pay the highest in-state public college tuition in the Southeast.
The University of South Carolina, for example, hopes to spend nearly half a billion dollars to renovate much of the south side of its Columbia campus. Tuition at the school is up by 43 percent over the past decade.
Clemson has asked to spend more than $12 million on a new tennis facility. Tuition is up 44 percent over the past decade.
Coastal Carolina University has proposed spending at least $38 million to expand its football stadium. Tuition is up 33 percent over the past decade.
Lander University has floated spending more than $15 million on student housing, with an enrollment of just over 2,000 students. Tuition increased by 22 percent since the 2008-09 academic year.
These projects are not inherently wasteful, but they represent concerning outlays of money at a time in which state watchdogs with the Commission on Higher Education say several of South Carolina's public colleges are at risk of financial collapse.
The state's schools have long relied on increasing enrollment and periodic tuition hikes to pay for operating costs while borrowing millions of dollars for new buildings, sports facilities and other amenities. That strategy works fine as long as schools can expand enrollment and increase tuition indefinitely, but that's obviously not a reasonable expectation.
On the contrary, enrollment is mostly flat over the past decade or so, and tuition is so high that further increases could cause enrollment to start decreasing.
Needless to say, average salaries in South Carolina have not increased by 22 to 44 percent over the past decade, making college an increasingly challenging financial proposition for many of the state's families.
If the pattern continues, some schools might have to close their doors, according to CHE predictions. Others could need costly state bailouts to stay afloat.
Not only have college leaders ignored those warnings, but they also want to leverage an expected state budget surplus to go even deeper into debt.
State Senate budget director Mike Shealy told a gathering of university leaders last week that South Carolina could leverage a projected $125 million budget surplus into $1.25 billion in borrowed money for college capital improvements, building renovations and other expensive projects.
That would be a catastrophic decision.
Rather than going deeper into debt, South Carolina colleges must develop long-term financial plans that create real value - not just flashy new facilities - for students while paying down debt and budgeting for sustainable enrollment and tuition numbers.
After all, a new, state-of-the-art dorm complex is pretty worthless if only a few South Carolina students can still afford to go to school.
The Times and Democrat
Have conversations early with older drivers about their ability
Much is written about the danger young drivers face on the road. Much less is reported about motorists at the other end of the spectrum. That needs to change with a focus on an increasingly aging population that includes more and more drivers over age 65.
New research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that nearly 83 percent of older drivers report never speaking to a family member or physician about their driving ability. Of the small percentage of families who do have the often-difficult conversation, 15 percent do so after a crash or traffic infraction has occurred - which could be too late.
The report is the latest research released in the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety's Longitudinal Research on Aging Drivers (LongROAD) project. Researchers found that only 17 percent of older drivers report ever speaking with a family member or physician about driving safety. The most commonly cited reasons for having the discussion include:
- Driving safety concerns (falling asleep while driving, trouble staying in lane): 65 percent.
- Health issues: 22 percent.
- Driving infraction or crash: 15 percent.
- Planning for the future: 7 percent.
Waiting to talk with older drivers is increasingly not an option. The danger on the road is real - and due to their fragility, older drivers are at greater risk of death or injury if involved in a crash.
In 2016, more than 200,000 drivers age 65 and older were injured in a crash, and more than 3,500 were killed. With seniors now outliving their ability to drive safely by an average of seven to 10 years, families cannot wait to talk about safety.
"There's no perfect age to determine when it's time to stop driving," said Tiffany Wright, AAA Carolinas Foundation for Traffic Safety president. "Understandably, many older drivers can be hesitant to initiate these difficult conversations about their driving ability, so it is important that families are proactive in starting these discussions - because with proper planning, elderly drivers might be able to safely stay behind the wheel longer."
AAA recommends that families start talking with older adults about safe driving early and avoid waiting until there are "red flags" like crashes, scrapes on the car (from bumping into garages, signs, etc.), new medical diagnoses or worsening health conditions. It is helpful to begin discussions when an older driver starts planning for other life changes, like retirement from work or moving to a new home.
Past research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that older adults who have stopped driving are almost two times more likely to suffer from depression and nearly five times as likely to enter a long-term care facility as those who remain behind the wheel.
"Permanently giving up the keys can have severe consequences for the health and mental well-being of older adults, especially if it's done without prior discussions," Wright said.
The dilemma is real. Keeping older adults on the road as long as they can drive safely is as vital to their well-being as getting them off the road when their driving days have passed.
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