January 31, 2013

U of SC seeks $41 million from state

When making a budget pitch to S.C. lawmakers, it probably doesn’t hurt to find a tie-in to a Gamecocks football star.

When making a budget pitch to S.C. lawmakers, it probably doesn’t hurt to find a tie-in to a Gamecocks football star.

University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides told legislators Wednesday that star running back Marcus Lattimore, who is leaving school early to go pro, is considering using the school’s new online college to complete his degree. The university is looking for $2.1 million in state money to pay for the online college, which starts operation this fall.

“There’s no need to wait until he has a break in his hopefully successful NFL career to come back to USC” to finish classes, Pastides told the S.C. House’s higher education budget subcommittee. “He can be taking courses online and getting his degree on his time.”

Overall, the state’s flagship university, which gets $101 million a year from the state now, requested nearly $41 million in added money from the House budget subcommittee – more than half for maintenance projects across its system. But the highlight was additional money that the school requested to fight competition from for-profit schools and accommodate students’ changing schedules with the online college and an extended summer semester.

House budget subcommittee chairman Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, a USC graduate, said he liked how the programs expand the campus and add classes without new construction. “They’re smart ideas,” he said after the hearing.

Pastides said he would not lean on students to foot new bills. “Let me be clear: A large tuition increase will not be in our plans.”

USC’s tuition hike this year, 3.15 percent, was the smallest since 1999. Tuition has more than more than doubled since 2002. After the hearing, Pastides said he expects another small single-digit tuition hike next year.

The university wants $5 million a year for its Palmetto College, which will allow students to complete online up to their last two years of school work. USC already receives about $2.9 million each year for the program, which starts in the fall, but wants another $2.1 million in permanent funding.

Last year, the school got the added funds – in onetime money – for the online college, which represents a culture change at the school by not requiring students to come to classes in Columbia for a USC degree, Pastides said. Palmetto College will offer seven majors in the fall, including business, criminal justice and education.

The school also wants $5 million a year for a new, expanded summer semester that is a cornerstone in the school’s “On Your Time” graduation initiative. South Carolina says the summer semester will give students more flexibility in class scheduling even though its enrollment has swelled by 5,600 students over the past decade.

Students could take as many credits in the summer as they now can in the fall and spring semesters. The university will start the expanded summer semester this year, offering additional classes and weeks of instruction. Gov. Nikki Haley’s executive budget recommended $1.25 million for the program.

USC also requested $22.25 million to pay for deferred maintenance across its nine campuses, including $15 million in Columbia to add much-needed classroom space to Hamilton College in Columbia. The governor’s budget called for $6.8 million systemwide.

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