Out-of-state students will make up about half of the University of South Carolina’s 5,800-member freshman class next week.
But USC president Harris Pastides pledged to state lawmakers Tuesday that the percentage of incoming out-of-state students at South Carolina’s flagship university will not continue to rise.
At a state Senate hearing, Pastides also denounced as “voo-doo mathematics” a claim, by a college oversight board, that the tuition discounts that USC gives to out-of-state students cost the school $23 million last year.
USC says it admits more out-of-state students to make up for the loss of more than $100 million in state funding over the decade. It also says those students, who pay higher tuition, help subsidize the education of in-state students.
Tuesday’s hearing was the latest episode in an ongoing debate over the $586 million in tuition breaks USC has given to out-of-state students over the past decade.
Those escalating discounts – totaling $94.5 million last year, up from $31.1 million in 2008 – and the rapid growth in USC’s out-of-state enrollment have caught the eye of S.C. lawmakers.
Some question whether the policy of relying on out-of-state students — lured by tuition discounts, in part — is sustainable. Others question whether the strategy is good for the state.
‘We’re about maxed out’
USC has said its tuition discounts will grow about 10 percent a year over the next decade.
During two hours of questioning Tuesday, Pastides and other USC leaders defended the tuition breaks as a necessary tool to offset Recession-era state budget cuts. On average, out-of-state students pay higher tuition than in-state students, even after the discounts, he said.
Tuition paid by out-of-state students is USC’s No. 1 source of revenue, ahead of tuition paid by in-state students and state appropriations, Pastides said.
USC’s president asked repeatedly that legislators work with S.C. public colleges on a new funding formula that would not push colleges to recruit out-of-state residents.
Still, S.C. senators Tuesday expressed concern that, now, just 58 percent of the university’s student body is from South Carolina – a figure that gradually has been in decline for years.
“That concerns me,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw. “The level of out-of-state students in my mind is high and it surprised me. … The mission of USC, as far as I’m concerned, is to provide an education to South Carolina students.”
Pastides said USC will ensure out-of-state students do not top 50 percent of its student body.
“We’re about maxed out,” he said. “We’ve achieved as much growth as we should. I don’t think it’s too much, but it’s about there. I think any more or much more would be detrimental.”
Senators also asked about the declining percentage of USC’s student body that is African American. They also questioned why USC offers far more in tuition discounts than other schools.
At several points, USC officials were asked to explain how a Commission on Higher Education board member last month used a marker and whiteboard to calculate that out-of-state students had cost the school millions, rather than, as USC says, made the school money.
“That white-board experience at the last hearing was absolutely incorrect,” Pastides said, adding later the Higher Education board member had taken numbers out of context and used them incorrectly. “That was voo-doo mathematics.”
Commission director Jeff Schilz said he respects Pastides and appreciates “his attempt at humor.”
“But,” Schilz added, “the only voo-doo here is trying to tell the people of South Carolina not to worry about $100 million in tuition breaks going to kids from other states last year, or the roughly $1.6 billion in breaks that USC estimates it will hand out-of-state students over the next decade.”
How much S.C. public colleges offered out-of-state students in tuition discounts last year:
USC: $94.5 million
Clemson University: $28.2 million
Coastal Carolina University: $8.3 million
College of Charleston: $5 million
Winthrop University: $4.3 million
USC-Aiken: $2.9 million
USC-Beaufort: $2.8 million
USC-Upstate: $2.4 million
The Citadel: $2.3 million
Lander University: $1.9 million
Francis Marion University: $1.3 million
S.C. State University: 0
SOURCE: S.C. Commission on Higher Education