As the state's legislative session ended, the status of Denmark Technical College remained in a state of uncertainty.
But indications are the college will remain open and operate as usual.
"It has not been decided yet," Sen. John Matthews, D-Bowman. Negotiations between the House and Senate on the state's $9.3 billion budget, to which the college's future is tied, are not expected to reach a conclusion until this week. "I think it will be Monday."
A conference committee of three House members and three senators met May 14 to begin the process of hashing out differences on the budget.
The panel met again May 16 but talks will continue into this week as the General Assembly will hold a special session to discuss the budget, the future of state-owned utility Santee Cooper and a $115 million incentive package to entice the NFL’s Carolina Panthers to locate a headquarters in Rock Hill.
Currently, the House has a budget proviso to close the college on June 30 and have it reopened as a trade school. The Senate budget contains no such proviso.
A Senate proviso does, however, have the state giving the college an additional $500,000 above and beyond what the state already gives for operating costs.
The S.C. Technical College System approved a budget for the college that includes $7.4 million in state funds and $3.2 million in federal funds for 2019-20.
Matthews said there are thoughts that some additional federal monies may be available for the college, though how much is uncertain.
"I think they can survive," he said.
Several attempts to reach college interim President Dr. Christopher Hall for comment were unsuccessful.
Orangeburg Sen. Brad Hutto also said the college's status is up in the air.
"There are several budget provisos in the budget that will be impactful, but I don't know what that will be," he said.
Hutto said the status of the college should definitely be known by the end of Tuesday, May 21, when the final conference committee recommendations will be approved.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said early indications are the college will operate as it has been with the state giving the institution the extra $500,000 this year. But as last week wore on, Cobb-Hunter too was uncertain about the status of the college.
The future of DTC has been much talked about over the past year.
The South Carolina Technical College System has said if the school stays in the system after June 30, any shortfalls incurred by the college will negatively affect funds available for the other 15 technical schools.
They say according to their projections, DTC has a $2 million shortfall. Smaller schools in the system would be impacted by $25,000 and larger schools could see an impact up to $300,000 to cover the shortfall.
Supporters want to keep the college open, saying the state should provide equal, fair and adequate funding.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Denmark Technical College Foundation and DTC National Alumni Association against the state notes the historically black technical college gets less support from the state and surrounding counties than other technical colleges in South Carolina.
The lawsuit claims 374 people will lose their jobs if the college closes.
In addition, the lawsuit states that while other local governments help fund the technical colleges in their areas, Denmark Tech gets virtually no funding from Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell counties.
DTC has received $38,100 from the counties it serves over the past five years. Greenville Technical College got $59 million during the same time.
The complaint claims the state fails to take the disparity into account in its funding of technical colleges.
The college has suffered over the past few years.
During the past 10 years, enrollment at DTC has plummeted 77%, from 2,277 students in 2008 to 523 students this past fall.
According to state numbers, more than 400 students from Allendale, Bamberg and Barnwell attended another surrounding technical college last fall. More than 75% of them headed for Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.
Citing sinking enrollment, financial instability, crumbling facilities and outdated equipment, the state technical college board issued a letter in January 2018 formally recommending the college close and that OCtech serve its primary area.