Why I Don't Live in South Carolina

My old high school, the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Math (SCGSSM), sent out a survey to understand what it would take to get more of its alumni to live and work in the state.

I think there are a lot of serious structural issues with SC that make it virtually impossible for me to live there. To a large extent, SCGSSM is a victim of its own success. Here, we have a fantastic, top-caliber high school that has trained scholars who can operate on the world stage. In my graduating class, there is a speechwriter for a politician, several lawyers, multiple doctors, and a large number of teachers.

The problem is that many of these top-notch jobs simply aren't in SC. SC doesn't have a thriving high-tech, biotech, financial, or engineering base. It's simply dominated by Atlanta to the west, and North Carolina to the north. The same is true for its universities. God bless Clemson's football team, but the universities in SC can't compete at the international level, let alone the regional level. For engineering and computer science, the region is dominated by Georgia Tech, Duke, and VA Tech. These factors put SC at a tremendous competitive disadvantage.

And then there's the issue of race. I pretty much always cringe whenever I hear SC in the news, since most often it's because some politician called the now governor of SC a "raghead", or because SC refuses to disassociate itself from the Confederate flag, or some frat boys make blatantly racist and sexist comments which appear in the Borat movie. David Beasley, a former governor of SC (who I had the honor of meeting on a plane once), even won an award for opposing having the Confederate flag on the state capitol. SC simply isn't doing itself any favors.

While I loved growing up in Charleston, and while I fondly reminisce about my time at SCGSSM, I just don't see a good way forward for my home state. The problems it faces are ones that will take 50-100 years to fix, and that's only if there is the political willpower and vision to carry it out.

Comments

Turadg said…
[like]
Kevin A. said…
Completely agree with the university issue: the state has 16 public university campuses and god knows how many little private schools - way more than any other place I've ever lived. My hypothesis is that the higher education "system" (I'm including all the private schools in this) can't focus, and investment gets spread too thin to make any of them real leaders.

For comparison, that's one four-year public campus per 280k residents. For SC's more pleasant neighbors to the north, NC also has (coincidentally) 16, but that's one for every 600k residents. Virginia has 14, one for every 570k residents. I'm not throwing Georgia in, because, outside of Atlanta, that state has just as many issues as SC. For another state as screwed up as SC, Mississippi has 10, one for every 290k residents (oddly almost the same as SC). Just out of curiosity, California has 33, one for every 1.1mil residents.

What we're doing is saying that we'll send GSSM kids to one of the best high schools in the country and prepare them to succeed at a world-class university, then expect them all to choose to stay in-state at our good, but not excellent, universities. If they do go out-of-state to, say, study engineering at Ga Tech or MIT, why would we expect them to turn down the lucrative and very interesting job in biotech in Boston or in IT in Silicon Valley to head back to SC to be a manufacturing engineer? There are other personal reasons to do so, but I doubt it would be a purely professional decision.
Kevin A. said…
Hey - apologies if I offended anyone who's a manufacturing engineer. Most of my family and friends in engineering are doing those jobs, and I'm not exactly a partner at Goldman Sachs or a world-renowned neurosurgeon. I've never been particularly good at tact.
Jason Hong said…
I should also say that Kevin and I discussed this issue over a great bowl of Pho at Tram's last weekend.

Also, I forgot about yet another embarrassment from South Carolina, Rep. Joe "You Lie!" Wilson
Molly said…
This is spot-on. I went to Spring Valley High School in Columbia, participated in their math/science research magnet program, which put me [and many others!] well on my way to a career in science. So now that I have a PhD and plan on being a research physicist for the rest of my life... why would I ever return to SC in order to work at one of their utterly uncompetitive universities?
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