COLUMBIA — Leaders from the state’s higher education coordinating group had a lot of questions Thursday on the status of a possible merger between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Presidents from several of the state’s public colleges and universities, including those in the Charleston area, made their annual presentations on plans and legislative priorities for the upcoming year to the Commission on Higher Education.

Commissioners especially were interested in how seriously to take recent reports on merging the two schools to form a research university in Charleston, what such a merger might look like, and how it would benefit the two schools and the state.

The commission each year brings information to the Legislature on the needs of the state’s public, higher education institutions. All the school leaders said they hope that some of the state funding that has been cut in recent years could be restored, that the state would issue a bond bill for new facilities, and that they could be exempt from some of the state’s bureaucratic operating requirements.

Medical University of South Carolina

President Ray Greenberg said the university would benefit if doctoral programs in computer science, physics, public health and business were offered locally. The university already collaborates with Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, he said, but some programs would run more smoothly if they were locally based.

Greenberg referred to working with the College of Charleston as a possible collaboration, not a merger. Some MUSC leaders would strongly resist a merger, he said.

But, he said, Charleston could benefit from a strong research university. The city is “becoming a hot place for bright, young, talented people,” he said. A research university could help attract and retain such people.

Greenberg also stressed the need for more financial support for “telemedicine” programs, which offer digital alternatives for certain medical visits. Such efforts are especially important in the state’s rural areas, he said. “Fifty miles outside South Carolina’s urban centers and medically you’re in the Third World.”

College of Charleston

Brian McGee, chief of staff for President George Benson, made the presentation for the college. He said the city of Charleston is in the middle of an economic transformation, for which Boeing is the catalyst. It’s that transformation that prompted the most recent discussions on a merger or collaboration between the college and MUSC.

The college has a reputation for providing strong undergraduate programs to young people, he said. But many people, especially business leaders and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, think it needs to expand its mission in the new economic environment.

Commissioner Bettie Rose Horne asked McGee about the possible merger of the college and the Charleston School of Law. Some law school alumni and local leaders have suggested that merger instead of allowing the law school to be sold to the private InfiLaw System.

McGee said college leaders know they can’t pursue that unless they are asked to do so by state leaders.

The Citadel

Lt. Gen. John Rosa said the military college’s applications and enrollment continue to rise. More than 700 cadets enrolled in the freshman class that will arrive on campus this week.

He also said the school’s retention has improved, which means its facilities nearly are at capacity.

Rosa also said the largest challenge The Citadel faces is money. State support has dropped to between 8 and 9 percent of the school’s budget, he said. The level of funding will have a tremendously negative impact over time, he said. “If the picture looks like this 10 years from now, we’ll have some serious issues in higher education.”

Rosa that if more state money were to become available, he thinks it should be used to provide more scholarships, increase operating money to higher-education institutions and complete deferred campus maintenance projects.

South Carolina State University

Commissioners gave Thomas Elzey, the school’s new president, two rounds of applause. The first came when Elzey vowed to improve services for students, and said he had given parents the phone number to his direct line so they could call him if they had problems.

The second round came at the end of Elzey’s presentation. Commissioners said he had stirred hope in them for the future of the troubled, historically black university in Orangeburg. In recent years, the school has faced financial problems, declining enrollment and the indictments of its former chief of police and former board chairman for their alleged roles in an alleged kickback scheme involving the university.

Elzey, who has been on the job about two months, said he plans to hire a strong provost to lead the academic arm of the institution, and empower academic deans to launch the programs they see fit. Many university leaders told him they have had ideas, but the university’s bureaucracy made it impossible for them to get things done.

He also said he would replace interim administrators with highly qualified permanent employees. And he would hire new administrators only if they were necessary for a desperately needed effort.

For instance, he said, he will hire a vice president for enrollment management because turning the tide of declining enrollment is essential for the university’s survival.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.