The Buzz

January 22, 2014

STATE HOUSE: USC asks for $10M + more in exchange for tuition freeze

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

The University of South Carolina system is asking state lawmakers for $10.1 million – the equivalent of a 3 percent tuition hike – to freeze student bills for the year.

USC also wants the state to cover any salary, health insurance costs and retirement pay increases to keep tuition at current levels. Those amounts depend on any changes approved by the General Assembly.

In his presentation to a House budget subcommittee on Wednesday, USC President Harris Pastides also asked for approval of a $3.4 million one-time request from the S.C. Commission on Higher Education that would allow students statewide to start using lottery scholarships during the summer session.

USC has expanded its summer semester to allow students to speed graduation.

The state’s flagship university is not asking for any money for construction projects or new programs – like it has in recent years.

If USC’s “tuition timeout” is approved, Pastides said he would give legislators credit in tuition letters sent to students.

Pastides said the university could not find a time in the past 25 years when USC held tuition at the same price.

USC’s tuition hike last year of a little more than 3 percent was the smallest since 1999. In-state students at the USC’s Columbia campus are paying $10,816 this year -- up by 30 percent since the economic downturn started in 2007 and more than double the rate of inflation.

“This is not time for business as usual,” said Pastides, who offered a three-year tuition freeze last fall while lawmakers talk about funding public colleges based on their academic and financial records.

USC’s enrollment has ballooned in recent years to make up for shrinking state funding in the economic downturn.

State Rep. Garry Smith, a Greenville Republican who sits on the higher education budget subcommittee, noted how USC expenditures have risen during the past five years and that budgeting will be tough next year.

Pastides said spending has risen with a growing student body, but the school also is looking at outsourcing some work including information technology services, parking, security and landscaping.

State Rep. B.R. Skelton, a Pickens Republican on the subcommittee, said lawmakers failing to properly fund colleges have forced tuition increases.

“I’m sick and tired of taxing education,” said Skelton, who plans to retire after his current term.

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