The University of South Carolina Beaufort needs to step up and push its Hilton Head Island campus as criticism rises.
The Town of Hilton Head Island appears to be taking all the heat as questions arise about the cost and location of the $24.5 million project.
In fact, the island campus also is a priority for USCB, the Beaufort County Council and the Beaufort County School District.
USCB could start by being forthcoming about the hospitality management program to be housed on a 6-acre site on Office Park Road.
We were stunned to find in our recent reporting that USCB cannot provide documentation to its claims that enrollment is growing in the program. It could not provide the graduation rate. It could not provide the grade-point average of its students. This is basic information on the health of the program, and it should be readily available.
The hospitality management program on the island is to include 200 students in the beginning, with the ability to grow to 400. It is up to USCB to prove that the heavy public investment in such a small number of students is worth it.
As to the town's involvement, USCB has been on the public agenda for a number of years. The town wants the campus to pump vitality into a community known for retirees, and it wants to encourage other redevelopment. The campus is to replace older, worn out office buildings.
The complaining public should remember that the USCB campus did not pop up overnight. It was proposed years ago for the Coligny Circle area. Response from neighbors was negative, so the town moved the project to what it thinks is a better location. Public outcry was again expected when Town Council moved in this direction in late 2013. It was talked about openly, and elected leaders felt USCB was worth it, despite the criticism.
Former mayor Drew Laughlin pushed for the campus. New mayor David Bennett was not against USCB but says he wanted better planning. And now that it is a done deal, he is pushing to make the best of the situation in terms of traffic.
Into this dustup has come one solid voice for what the community is doing and why.
It comes from Beaufort County Council chairman Paul Sommerville, whose great-grandmother was an education leader after the Civil War. Sommerville takes the long view, noting Beaufort County's decades of financial support for USCB and the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
"If it hadn't been for this (county) council, I think everybody knows there wouldn't be a USCB (as it is now)," Sommerville said. "We have just literally taken the bull by the horns and supported USCB because it serves our purpose ... attracting business, attracting tourism, educating our children -- all the things that are near and dear to our hearts."
In the face of critics who question its value, USCB needs to make that case for itself.