A state Senate panel will begin holding hearings next month into the tuition breaks that S.C. public colleges use to recruit out-of-state students.
Senators will hear first from University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, whose school is under fire for giving out-of-state students $515 million in discounts over the past decade.
The Senate Education Committee’s decision to look into the discounts follows a months-long political fracas — among some lawmakers, a college oversight board and USC — over whether the practice helps or hurts S.C. residents.
“It seems like we’re getting more and more out-of-state students taking slots in our in-state universities and schools,” said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, who requested the hearings. “That concerns me because I have constituents who are complaining that they have not been able to get into the university.”
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Tensions came to a head last month when the S.C. Commission on Higher Education held a proposed USC land deal hostage.
The commission’s board members say they needed proof that USC’s tuition discounts are sustainable in the long run before they would OK a $9.4 million land purchase by the school.
Their delay frustrated USC leaders, who say the discounts attract out-of-state students whose higher tuition subsidizes the cost of educating S.C. residents. Those out-of-state students do not take seats away from qualified in-state students, USC says.
This year, USC lobbied lawmakers to strip much of the Commission on Higher Education’s power, an effort blocked by a June gubernatorial veto.
“The university will continue to have discussions about tuition discounts with the CHE and members of the General Assembly,” said USC spokesman Jeff Stensland. “We look forward to more dialogue and welcome opportunities to share information with lawmakers and others.”
CHE is scheduled to consider USC’s land purchase again Aug. 3.
Then, on Aug. 15, Pastides is scheduled to speak at the Senate subcommittee’s first hearing, according to a letter from acting Senate Education Committee chairman Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee.
The panel will include Peeler and state Sens. Jackson; Greg Hembree, R-Horry; Tom Young, R-Aiken; and Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.
In addition to out-of-state tuition discounts, the panel also will explore the State Board of Education’s new grading system — making a 90 an “A” versus the previous 93, for example — and the impact of that change on grade-based lottery scholarships.