University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, in an e-mail to alumni, decried a proposed 21 percent cut in state funding to the university, which, coming on the heels other reductions in recent months, would drop state funding to the USC system by more than $100 million by July.
"I understand the extreme difficulty that the South Carolina legislature faces in crafting a budget while in a still-severe recession, but we must also realize the long-term impact of cutting education so drastically," Pastides wrote in the e-mail last week.State legislators, facing the prospect of slashing the budgets of multiple agencies, say higher education is set to fare better than other areas of state government because federal stimulus money almost completely fills the hole left by proposed cuts.
"This year, higher education got treated, in my opinion, well in comparison to other agencies," said state Rep. Chip Limehouse, the Charleston Republican who chairs the higher education subcommittee in the state House of Representatives. "Next year is going to be an iceberg looming for higher education. There is no stimulus money."
The e-mail underscores how higher education is dealing with dual truths. State support of higher education has been dramatically slashed. But federal stimulus dollars are offering a reprieve, covering the difference this budget year. The $787 billion federal stimulus package ends after this year. So next year, colleges could be facing another massive funding cut in what colleges anticipate will be the new normal as the nation struggles to pull out of its worst-ever recession.
Never miss a local story.
Under a proposal being considered in the House Ways and Means Committee, state funding for higher education would take a $85 million hit, dropping it to $683 million.
No public college or university in the state would be spared the budget ax. Specific cuts include:
- $27 million at USC's Columbia campus- $16.5 million at Clemson University- $5 million at the College of Charleston- $3.5 million at S.C. State University.
But in each case, federal stimulus funding covers those cuts.
In his update to alumni, Pastides disputed a contention, published in an article in The State, that the stimulus money meant USC would be "mostly left untouched" in this round of budget cuts.
"Clearly, this is not the case as these one-time funds were to have been allocated to one-time needs such as badly needed repairs to academic buildings," Pastides wrote. "Now, they will likely be diverted to even more fundamental priorities such as retaining personnel who provide essential academic and student support services."
Pastides had no firm number of faculty or staff whose jobs would be saved by moving stimulus money from projects to personnel. He noted that the proposed state budget has not been finalized and said his administration has not made final decisions on what to do with this year’s stimulus funding.
The university will move forward with plans to install sprinklers in dormitories, he said.
"That’s a commitment that we will not back away from," Pastides said. "That one will continue."Pastides and leaders at other colleges and universities in South Carolina have tried to strike a balance between drawing attention to state budget cuts at their schools while not offending lawmakers who make the funding decisions. Additionally, colleges do not want to create the impression stimulus funding has solved schools’ budget woes.
S.C.’s state colleges and universities remain far behind other schools in this region when it comes to resources.South Carolina's public, four-year colleges and universities are next to last among 16 Southern and Northeastern states when it comes to public funding for higher education, according to figures from the Southern Regional Education Board.Only schools in West Virginia got less funding from their state legislature in 2008-09, the board's report shows.Those figures buttress an argument higher education officials in South Carolina are making to legislators as they consider a bill crafted to make it easier for colleges and universities to move forward with large development projects.School arguments go like this: If you're going to keep cutting higher education funding, at least allow colleges and universities to develop more quickly and inexpensively.
A watered-down version of the bill is still pending in the state Senate.Several figures from SREB, a nonprofit group that collects and distributes data on colleges and universities in South Carolina and 15 other Southern, Midwestern and Northeastern states, illustrate how poorly South Carolina fares when it comes to state support for higher education.South Carolina's public, four-year colleges and universities got an average of $15,671 in revenue per full-time student from appropriations, tuition and fees in 2008-09, SREB figures show. Appropriations accounted for 31 percent of that revenue, a lower percentage than in any of the other states SREB tracks.
The average in SREB states was 53 percent.South Carolina appropriated $4,820 per full-time student in 2008-09, SREB figures show. That figure was down by 24.8 percent from the previous year, a much bigger drop in support than the 3.6 percent reduction SREB states averaged.
No state in the SREB region cut state funding more, and only West Virginia, which appropriated $4,438 per full-time student, offered less support for its public, four-year colleges and universities.
Pastides said USC has, so far, weathered the current economic storm with its core functions intact. But he said that will become increasingly difficult if funding cuts continue over the next few years.
"If USC were to lose its core strength in areas that are important to South Carolina, you can’t just say, ‘OK, we’ve got the money now. Let’s just build it back.’ It will take many years to recover from the cuts."
Higher education officials in South Carolina have long argued that the state's tepid support for higher education has contributed to higher-than-average tuition rates. As colleges wrestle with strategies to overcome less state support, schools could soon find themselves pressured to consider tuition increases. Over the past couple of years colleges, at the behest of state lawmaker, have not raised tuition dramatically. The recession and less access to lending has left students and families less able to absorb large increases, a fact colleges have acknowledged in holding the line on tuition.
Still, South Carolina's public, four-year colleges and universities charged an average of $8,400 per year for in-state students in 2008-09, SREB figures show. No state in SREB's region charged more.Those tuition rates do not fund faculty salaries that are higher than the SREB average. Full-time faculty members earned an average of $69,305 in South Carolina. Faculty in eight SREB states earned more; faculty in seven states earned less.State Rep. Liston Barfield, R-Horry, said he and his colleagues would like to do more for higher education. But the requirement of a balanced state budget makes that tough.
"It’s not a good year to balance the budget," he said. "We have to cut in a lot of places. We can’t print money like they do in Washington."