June 20, 2014

USC raises tuition by 3.2% for next fall

The University of South Carolina will raise tuition by 3.2 percent next year, roughly the same annual hike as the two previous years.

The University of South Carolina will raise tuition and fees by 3.2 percent next year.

The increase is roughly the same as in the two previous years and among the lowest during the past 15 years.

In-state students will pay $11,158 in tuition and fees next year, up $342. Out-of-state students will pay $29,440, an extra $912 over this past year.

Tuition at the state's flagship university has nearly tripled since 2000. University officials blame those increases on cuts in state funding.

“It’s painful,” USC trustee chairman Gene Warr said after a board meeting Friday. “But that’s reality. We raised tuition the least amount we could raise. ... We are barely covering rising costs that we do not control.”

The tuition hike next year will add $9.5 million to the Columbia campus' coffers.

That money will help pay most of the cost of state-mandated increases in university employees’ salaries, health insurance and retirement costs. USC also is expecting to need at least $4 million to cover costs associated with the start of the Affordable Care Act.

The school will try to find savings to offset the remaining $5 million in cost increases, including higher building maintenance and utilities costs, that are not covered by the tuition increase, said Leslie Brunelli, USC’s chief financial officer.

Four other S.C. public colleges have announced tuition hikes for next year, ranging from 2.4 percent to 3.2 percent.

Lexington attorney Tommy Cofield, Gov. Nikki Haley’s appointee to the trustee board, asked if school administrators had done enough to save money and avoid a tuition hike.

The school has trimmed $30 million in costs during the past school year, said Ed Walton, senior vice president for administration. Provost Michael Amiridis said USC is spending less per than student than peer schools, something that is being noticed in academic circles.

Trustees passed unanimously a $1.34 billion budget Friday that is 4 percent higher than this year and includes the tuition hike.

State funding now 11% of costs

USC officials say they have tried to halt the cycle of tuition hikes.

School leaders asked S.C. lawmakers this year to provide $10.1 million in added state money to cover the cost of state-mandated salary and health insurance hikes. In exchange, the school said it would keep student costs steady, a so-called “Tuition Timeout.”

However, the General Assembly let that proposal die. Instead, state budget-makers allocated $4 million for an efficiency review committee that will hire a consultant to find savings at all S.C. public universities by next year.

USC president Harris Pastides pledged Friday to keep working with legislators to find ways to keep tuition affordable. He said he planned to engage the business community more in aiding the school’s efforts.

Pastides said he floated the “Tuition Timeout” idea this year to gauge legislative reaction. Next year, he said he will try a new approach with lawmakers.

“We will start out with listening,” Pastides said. “We will start out with what they would like to see in return for a renewed approach to state appropriations.”

State funding of USC was $144 million this year, down from $230 million in 2007-08, school administrators said. USC receives nearly 11 percent of its annual budget from tax dollars, down from 23 percent six years ago.

The 3.2 percent tuition rate hike covers all USC campuses except Beaufort, where tuition will rise by 4.8 percent next year as the school finishes its elevation as a four-year college.

Housing and meal plans are rising by 3.8 percent on the Columbia campus next year. Dorms will cost $170 to $280 more a year, while the meal plan will grow by nearly $100.

Tuition on the Columbia campus is no longer the highest among public colleges in the Southeastern Conference, USC officials told trustees. Kentucky and Tennessee have passed USC.

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