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Noble: Five good ideas for a better S.C.
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One of the most fun and interesting things about writing this column is all the feedback I get from folks. I especially like the good ideas to improve our state people send me.

Sometimes I get grumpy responses from folks who don’t like what I wrote (I reply and try to address their concerns). Some say nice things and tell me how smart I am (I like these). Some tell me I’m absolutely nuts and often add a sting of very creative profanities (I think about referring these folks to the ones who think I’m smart and let them fight it out among themselves).

I answer every email I get. I figure if I don’t want people to contact me, which I do, then I shouldn’t put my email address at the bottom of every column (I do). (Editor’s Note: We have not included Mr. Noble’s email address in the past. We are happy to do so from here forward.)

My favorite emails are those where people send along a ‘good idea’ in hopes, somehow, I’ll help get it implemented. Some folks seem to think because I write about politicians and such, those said politicians and such actually will do what I suggest -- they don’t. I do sometimes forward these good idea emails to someone I know who is in a position to at least pay attention. That’s usually where it ends.

So, this column is about some of these good ideas that people have sent me. Up front let me say I don’t really keep track of who suggested what; they may be from a random email or a personal story someone wrote about or a link to an interesting website or brief chance conversation with someone I ran into who had an idea sparked by a column they read.

So, here goes, in no particular order, are five of my favorite ideas -- big and small -- which could make South Carolina a better place.

Lifelong scholarships for college athletes -- most every college and university in the state gives athletic scholarships. For many of these student athletes, dreams of professional success propel them every day and not dreams of good grades or graduating on time. Totally understandable -- but fewer than 5 percent of student athletes ever play beyond college. We should make our scholarships lifelong so athletes can come back to school after their four years of eligibility and take classes and finish their degrees. It would be wonderful if the scholarship extended through postgraduate courses as well.

Make the welcome centers really pop -- we have nine welcome centers in the state and I think I’ve been to all of them and they are all pretty much the same. There are lots of racks of colorful brochures, a few rocking chairs scattered about, some hyper-friendly people behind a counter asking you to sign in, and some big bright pictures on the walls with lots of smiling faces. Why not make our welcome centers really special, over the top great where visitors say to themselves “South Carolina must be an amazing place”? At a minimum, we could give away samples of local foods (with a catalogue where visitors could buy some); make the place look more warm and friendly and not phony friendly, and generally make it something really special. Mississippi has great welcome centers they call ‘Mississippi’s Front Porch’ -- and they feel like visiting the front porch of an old friend’s house. We can do better.

Debt free college with community service -- every qualified student should be able to earn a two or four year degree if they are willing to do a certain amount of community service -- teaching in rural schools, working with the elderly, weatherizing homes, improving state parks -- the list is endless. We as a state should make this commitment to all of our students who would in turn make a commitment to our state.

Finish the Palmetto Trail and tell people about it -- one of the great little known jewels of this state is the Palmetto Trail. When it is finished, the Palmetto Trail will be a 425-mile hiking, camping and mountain bike trail from the coast above Charleston to Mt. Sassafras, the highest point in the state on the North Carolina border. So far, 23 segments totaling 235 miles have been completed. The trail is a spectacular path which showcases the most beautiful natural, cultural and historic areas of our state. It’s simply magnificent. It needs to be finished and then promoted so everyone can learn about and enjoy this remarkable natural treasure.

A digital learning device for every student -- this idea has been a passion of mine for more than 20 years and every time I write about it, I hear from lots of folks telling me about their child’s positive experience with technology in schools. Increasingly schools all over the state are moving to this -- it’s called 1 to 1 learning, one device per one student. It could be an iPad, net book, or some other device that the school districts think is appropriate. This may be the single most important thing we can do to improve education in our state and prepare our children for the interconnected, globally completive workplace of the 21st Century.

So, you might ask, why only five ideas? The short answer is space -- folks have sent in lots of great ideas but my editor gets nervous if I write much over 800 words for this column (it’s already at 898 words).

What do you think we should do to make our state better? No idea is too big or too small.

Send me your ideas and I’ll do another column soon on the best new ideas folks send.

(Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrats, an independent reform group founded by former Gov. Richard Riley. His column is provided by the S.C. News Exchange. Contact Noble at phil@scnewdemocrats.org).