U of SC needs to find new cash by 2017

If school is to keep growing, it must develop new revenue, trustees told

ashain@thestate.comDecember 19, 2012 

The University of South Carolina will not generate enough money to keep growing by 2017 and could face either cutting costs or boosting tuition unless it can find additional revenue sources, trustees were told Friday.

Despite record tuition and enrollment levels, the state’s flagship school says it must look for new ways to make money in the next five years if it is to become a higher-tier public university, like the universities of North Carolina or Virginia.

USC is not relying as much on state money as it has in the past. That funding that has dropped to $99 million from $184 million in the past five years at the Columbia campus.

But even small projects are running into resistance from state budget leaders, who want the university to operate with its existing buildings. Officials say USC needs new construction to draw better students who will help the state prosper economically.

So the college is developing plans.

USC president Harris Pastides suggested the school could broaden its online courses, hold more classes year-round, bring in more foreign students and offer graduate programs overseas.

“We are talking to some private partners, who say there is a lot of thirst in countries where there’s a lot of growth — in Brazil and in Asia — where they would love a University of South Carolina degree,” he said.

The deals could be a windfall: A USC business school program offered with a Mexican university charges more than $40,000 a year.

USC also is looking at private partnerships to build dorms and classroom space that could open within two years.

The school is completing a couple of major ongoing projects valued at more than $100 million — hiring up to 250 new faculty members and developing a computer system that, among other things, will allow students to register for classes and manage their financial aid.

Some of the money for those projects came from rising enrollment and tuition. USC’s enrollment has grown by 13 percent, or 3,600 students, over the past five years. Meanwhile, the school’s in-state tuition has risen 26 percent since 2007.

Undergraduate classroom space, however, has not increased in the past decade, USC chief financial officer Ed Walton said.

USC cannot lean on tuition hikes beyond the rate of inflation, Walton said. The school raised students bills by 3.15 percent this year, its smallest increase in 13 years.

And USC cannot use much of the money being raised in a $1 billion fund-raising campaign because most of those contributions are being donated to specific departments and projects, Pastides said. Perhaps the school can shake loose some more money from the state if the economy improves, he added.

“We’re in the early stages for what we need to do, down the road,” USC trustees chairman Gene Warr said. “There will come a time to make choices.”

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