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Senior Editor
Columbia, South Carolina
his is howAustin Gilbert tells the story of South
Carolina’s decision to launch an ambitious new
performance-based budgeting plan for public higher
Gilbert runs a small construction company in Florence,
S.C. He is also chairman of the South Carolina Commission
on Higher Education. In that capacity, he was one of 12
people who met for several months in 1995 to ponder the
future of South Carolina’s 33 public colleges and universities.
The study group, appointed by the state legislature,
included four state senators, four members of the House of
Representatives and four people, including Gilbert, from
business and industry. Their discussions were guided by
a North Carolina management consultant named Terry
Ainsworth, who asked the group to read two books: “Break
Point and Beyond,” by George Land and Beth Jarman, and
“The Fifth Discipline,” by Peter Senge.
The “Break Point” book made a deep impression on
Austin Gilbert.
“They made the point that an organization is like an
organism that is constantly evolving,” he recalled during
an interview. “In the early stages there’s a lot of enthusiasm
and it’s okay to make mistakes. Then you get to the second
phase—the ‘break point’—and the organization starts to
become more rigid, and mistakes are not tolerated as much.
People begin to say, ‘We don’t do it that way around here.’
“In the third phase, beyond the ‘break point,’ you have
to reinvent the organization,” Gilbert continued, “with
supportive leadership that looks at things in a new and
different way, encourages new thinking and says it’s okay to
make mistakes. We decided we were in that phase and we
had to reinvent higher education in South Carolina.”
The discussions were marked by “good will and
camaraderie,” Gilbert said. “This was a peak experience
for me…everybody put the issues right out on the table,
Winter 1998
Performance-Based Budgeting
South Carolina’s new plan mired in detail and confusion
and the openness of
the discussions was
None of the 12
members came from
higher education,
although the chair,
state Senator Nikki G.
Setzler, a Democrat,
has been chairman of
the Senate Education
Committee for eight
years, and Gilbert has
been a member of the
state higher education
coordinating body for
five years.
“There was kind
of a gentlemen’s
agreement that we
didn’t want that kind
of pressure,” Gilbert
and faculty leaders
were in the audience
when the group met but could not speak unless they were
asked specific questions. Few outside experts were consulted
and most of their advice was ignored.
The committee members were “largely unencumbered
by knowledge of higher education,” remarked Jack Parson, a
political science professor at the College of Charleston and
head of the statewide Council of Faculty Chairs.
“You had business people and others who thought they
knew how things should be done in higher education,” said
Sally Horner, executive vice president at Coastal Carolina
University, a 4,500-student campus near the popular resort
community of Myrtle Beach. “This would be like me sitting
on a committee to study the South Carolina banking
But Terry Ainsworth, the group’s “facilitator,” said the
absence of college administrators and faculty members
“could be a positive—the people involved didn’t have any
particular biases.”
Toward the end of their deliberations, study group
members began to decide which were “critical success
factors” for public higher education in the Palmetto State.
Using keypads called “innovators,” so no one could see how
others were voting, they selected 37 “performance indicators,”
ranging from graduation rates to “use of best management
The new performance-based budgeting plan for higher
education “is costing the state a fortune,” says University
of South Carolina’s Marcia G. Welsh.
A 12-member study group of the
South Carolina Commission on
Higher Education selected 37
“performance indicators,” ranging
from graduation rates to “use of best
management practices.”
Photos by Gordon Humphries for CrossTalk