ORANGEBURG - South Carolina State University raised its tuition by 5 percent Friday, the second in what is expected to be a steady stream of increases by colleges and universities struggling with continuing state budget cuts.
"This has been an extremely tough financial year," president George Cooper said. "We did not want to increase tuition but, with such significant decline in state appropriations over the past two years, it was necessary to ensure the continued success of S.C. State University."
Get used to hearing that message from college presidents over the next couple of months, as schools look to plug budget holes left by state cuts and the looming loss of federal stimulus money.
John Smalls, S.C. State's vice president for fiscal affairs, said the university received $26 million from the state in 2008. This year, it expects to get $12.8 million.
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And lawmakers, trying to balance the state budget against declining state revenues, are likely to continue wielding a sharp budget ax next year.
The University of South Carolina, Clemson University, The Citadel and other state-supported schools are expected to announce tuition hikes in June.
None is expected to hold the line on tuition, making even higher South Carolina's already highest-in-the-South college education costs.
Coastal Carolina University already has said it will boost its tuition next fall by 4.91 percent for in-state students and 8 percent for out-of-state students.
S.C. State's increase comes on the heels of an 8.4 percent hike last year and a 5.3 percent boost the year before that. In-state tuition will increase to just more than $8,900 from $8,462, generating $1.8 million more for the school.
The school's trustees, who gave final approval to the increase, also raised room rates at Hugine Suites, a residence hall for upperclassmen. Rates at other residence halls will not be increased.
But that was little consolation to some S.C. State board members, who expressed worry Friday the tuition increases could harm the school's efforts to attract students.
"I'm concerned that there would be some students who look at our tuition increases and decide to go somewhere other than S.C. State University," said board member Frederick Gallant.
Enrollment has been an ongoing concern at S.C. State, which received an unexpected jolt to its finances last fall when the equivalent of only 4,122 full-time students enrolled. That was several hundred students fewer than was expected.
Next year's budget factors in a fall enrollment of 4,250.
"We feel very, very optimistic that the 4,250 students can be reached," Smalls said.
In addition to voting on tuition rates, board members chose a new chairman.
Walter L. Tobin, who has served on the board since 2008, is the fourth member to hold the board's gavel over the past two years, reflecting continuing fissures on the board, which has clashed over finances and administrative leadership.
"It's always been a political board," said Jonathan Pinson, who lost his bid to be re-elected chairman by a single vote. "That hasn't changed."
Pinson said he will continue on the board and assist the university in any way he can. But he said the frequent leadership changes could be jarring for those outside of the university.
"They definitely could view it as instability," he said.
Tobin said he, too, will do whatever he can to help the university. "This board is of one accord, and no matter who is chairman, we work together."