Higher enrollment, tuition net USC extra $17 million

09/16/2012 12:00 AM

09/15/2012 7:43 PM

The University of South Carolina’s record-high enrollment and tuition are generating a nice chunk of extra money.

With enrollment up by 3,500 students from four years ago to nearly 31,000 and tuition rising another 3.15 percent this year, school leaders project USC will have $16.7 million more to spend than a year ago.

A majority of the extra money is coming from higher tuition. Annual tuition and fees have increased by $1,650, or 19 percent, in the past four years.

About half of the cash is slated for state-mandated pay raises that USC must cover because its state funding has shrunk due to the lingering poor economy.

Some of the extra money is going toward administrative costs. These include $300,000 to hire more staff for the $1 billion Carolina’s Promise fundraising campaign and $150,000 to cover the costs of additional trustee meetings, USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. Another $1 million will help lower debt.

Other funds are going to student-related programs, including efforts to recruit better students and keep them in school as well as increasing staffing and academic assistance, public safety and maintenance services to match the higher enrollment.

“We’re using the growth to reinvest,” said Stacey Bradley, USC’s associate vice president for student affairs and academics. “We have not adjusted to the (student) growth in past years. As we have been dealing with the state budget cuts, the goal was not to reduce staffing.”

Growing faculty

A key target for the new money is an ongoing four-year, $20-million plan to hire more faculty members with greater experience. By 2015, USC expects to raise its faculty staffing by 250 to 1,250, Provost Michael Amiridis said.

In a meeting with reporters last month, Amiridis introduced more than a dozen new faculty members, some of whom had tenure at their previous schools.

The new professors and researchers said they came to USC because it was expanding, open to new fields of research, possessed a strong sense of community and able to offer competitive salaries.

“South Carolina has a certain kind of potential,” said David Cutler, USC’s new director of music entrepreneurship, who came after 11 years at Duquesne University.

The veteran hires help offset an experience drain that resulted when some long-term USC faculty chose to retire early because of possible changes in the state retirement system.

“They are bringing a wealth of academic knowledge to us,” Amiridis said.

‘Students’ best interest’

Students are getting help in other ways because of the extra money that comes from growing enrollment and tuition.

USC is earmarking $250,000 to its career center that coordinates internships and job shadowing for students.

Another $590,000 is being spent to add staff who help students struggling academically – those in danger of losing scholarships or flunking out, or in need of help navigating college life and expectations, Bradley said.

This program, the Student Success Center, also is using some of the new money to develop an online service.

“To assume all students come here with well-rounded skills is unrealistic,” Bradley said. “It’s in the students’ best interest to provide this help.”

For example, students who drop out are more likely to default on their loans, she said.

The center also helps students cope with alcohol and drug use that might hurt their class attendance and grades. “They have to learn ... how to be responsible,” Bradley said.

The school committed $100,000 for a pair of new employees for its student conduct office, which has seen a rise in referrals as enrollment has grown.

USC also used $600,000 to boost the staffing of its campus police force. Despite that increase, school officials asked the Columbia Police Department for help last week after a series of crimes.

Another $500,000 has been added for custodial services, along with $350,000 for the university shuttle.

“Now, we’re beginning to see increases to match the growth on campus,” Bradley said.

Recruiting and retaining

The state’s flagship university also is trying to see if it can get better students and keep them on campus.

USC signed a $300,000, one-year contract with a firm that has helped the college in recent years by targeting high school students who have a greater chance of applying, being accepted and enrolling at the university, Bradley said.

Working with the Richmond, Va.,-based Royall & Co., USC has been able to increase the response rate to its initial mailings to potential students to up to 15 percent from less than 5 percent, Bradley said. Applications have risen by a third to more than 23,000 in the past four years.

The school also will hire more regional admission counselors to recruit students in other parts of the country – rather than sending staff from Columbia, Bradley said.

These recruiters meet with guidance counselors and attend college fairs. USC plans to double the number of regional counselors to 18 by establishing bases in Texas, Illinois, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Tennessee and Massachusetts. Recruiters already work in California, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Maryland and Maine.

In addition to bringing in more students, the school also is spending $200,000 to analyze student retention. Analysts will look at whether taking the University 101 course, which teaches college life skills, reduces rule conduct violations, and whether registering for classes late hurts students’ grades, Bradley said.

Finally, some of the extra money – $1.5 million – will allow USC to put a dent in its lengthy list of deferred maintenance projects.

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