The University of South Carolina is asking S.C. lawmakers for added money to pay for major projects at the state’s flagship college that could land more students.
USC is asking legislators for $51.3 million in new money for its main Columbia campus next year. They money would go to add classrooms, and further expand USC’s summer session and its Honors College, which attracts top-performing students.
The moves could bring more students to the 32,000-student Columbia campus, which has seen its enrollment grow by 25 percent in the past decade.
“We seek state investment to grow in-state enrollment,” said Ed Walton, USC’s senior vice president for administration and chief operating officer. “Enrollment has flattened out. With more investment, we can grow.”
Walton did not have an estimate on the number of additional students the school could accommodate when building renovations and program expansions are finished.
USC’s biggest request is $25 million to renovate its law school building on Main Street, which will be emptied when a new $80 million law school opens in 2017. After that move, the College of Hospitality, Retail and Sports Management is scheduled to move to the law school building from the Carolina Coliseum.
Other requests include paying for additional faculty and staff, and technology for an expanded summer session and USC’s Honors College as well as information-technology improvements and upgrades to the school’s 174-year-old library.
USC is asking for more state money for projects as more student tuition money is being spent on operations, including employee pay, health insurance, retirement costs and utilities, said Leslie Brunelli, the school’s chief financial officer.
The head of the S.C. House’s budget-writing committee, Anderson Republican Brian White, has expressed concerns about increased spending by colleges. Earlier this year, White pushed through $4 million to create a cost-efficiency panel.
This past year, USC tried to take White’s concerns into account by not requesting added state money for any large projects.
Instead, the school proposed a new $10 million-a-year state appropriation to bolster its summer session and new online degree-completion program in exchange for not raising tuition for three years. After lawmakers took a pass on that proposed tradeoff, USC raised tuition by 3 percent for the third consecutive year.
USC is not offering another so-called “tuition timeout” this year, Walton said.
Expanding the summer session could help save some students tuition and loan costs, and get them into the workforce faster, USC leaders say. Adding faculty and technology to the Honors College could help the college attract more top talent, students who could stay in the state after they graduate, they said.
The state’s largest college also has its eyes on increasing its enrollment. Adding students adds money to USC’s coffers, offsetting dwindling state support since the recession, and adds more college graduates, who are needed to meet business demands in the state, university leaders said.
South Carolina needs 114,550 more college-educated workers by 2030 to bolster the state’s economy, according to a University of South Carolina study this year, paid for by a business group that includes two former governors.
Renovating the 42-year-old, 193,972-square-foot law school building will add some classroom space, Walton said. That work would lead to a domino effect as adding space allows the school to add students.
The school also is considering what to do with the 46-year-old Carolina Coliseum, no longer used for basketball games. Only two academic programs — the hospitality college, and College of Mass Communications and Information Studies — remain in the Coliseum. Both are slated to move to new homes.
Signs point toward reusing the Coliseum, rather than tearing it down. The school is spending $4.6 million for basketball practice courts and new offices for men’s basketball coach Frank Martin and his staff as well as facilities for his team.
Last year, the school floated a $125 million proposal to renovate the coliseum to add classrooms, a student union and student-services offices.
But USC has not submitted a formal Coliseum proposal to its board or lawmakers. USC president Harris Pastides has said he wants to study the Coliseum’s future but has given no timetable.