The University of South Carolina system is asking state lawmakers for $10.1 million – the equivalent of a 3 percent tuition hike – to freeze students’ tuition bills for a year.
As part of the offer to keep tuition at current levels, USC also wants the state to cover the cost of any state-ordered salary hikes or increases in health insurance and retirement expenses. Those amounts depend on any changes approved by the General Assembly.
In his presentation to a House budget subcommittee Wednesday, USC president Harris Pastides also asked for approval of a one-time, $3.4 million request from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education that would allow students statewide to start using lottery scholarships during summer sessions.
USC has expanded its summer semester on its Columbia campus to allow students to speed graduation. The school also has started an online degree completion program.
The state’s flagship university is not asking for any money for construction projects or new programs – like it has in recent years.
If USC’s “tuition timeout” is approved, Pastides said he would give legislators credit in tuition letters sent to students.
Pastides said the university could not find a time in the past 25 years when USC has held its tuition at the same price from year to year. USC last held its tuition flat in 1987, according to news reports.
USC’s tuition hike of a little more than 3 percent last year was the smallest since 1999. In-state students at USC’s Columbia campus are paying $10,816 this year – up 30 percent since the economic downturn started in 2007 and more than double the rate of inflation.
“This is not time for business as usual,” said Pastides, who offered a three-year tuition freeze last fall while lawmakers are talking about changing the way the state funds public colleges.
USC’s enrollment has ballooned in recent years to make up for shrinking state funding during the economic downturn.
State Rep. Garry Smith, a Greenville Republican who sits on the higher education budget subcommittee, noted how USC’s expenditures have risen during the past five years, adding the state faces tough decisions for its next fiscal year, which starts July 1.
Pastides said spending has risen due to USC’s growing student body. He added the school is looking at outsourcing some work including information-technology services, parking, security and landscaping.
State Rep. B.R. Skelton, a Pickens Republican on the subcommittee, said lawmakers have forced tuition increases by failing to properly fund colleges.
“I’m sick and tired of taxing education,” said Skelton, who plans to retire after his current term.