The University of South Carolina is charting a course to Cuba. Meanwhile, Lander University surprised lawmakers last week with word of a possible tuition cut.
A week after President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit the island nation in 88 years, USC will send four administrators and professors over the Florida Strait to explore student and academic exchanges in tourism and international business.
During the five-day trip, starting Wednesday, the USC representatives will visit the University of Havana, University of Cienfuegos, and ministries of higher education and tourism, said Allen Miller, USC’s director of international affairs.
The USC trip could lay groundwork for more visits by S.C. officials.
USC President Harris Pastides is expected to visit in May at the invitation of the Cuban government.
Miller said the USC group also was asked to watch for opportunities for the S.C. Department of Commerce in the agriculture, forestry and medicine sectors.
The United States has eased travel and business restrictions, started in the 1960s after diplomatic relations were broken off following the Castro communist government’s takeover of the island.
U.S. colleges already are seeking opportunities in the newly reopened nation.
Clemson University sent scientists to Havana in December to discuss partnerships to help preserve historic buildings. Clemson officials plan to return later this year to work with architects and archaeologists to launch a pilot project to preserve sugar mills.
The College of Charleston has sent a dozen students to Cuba in a study-abroad program since 2000.
USC is looking for more formal arrangements in Cuba. It was the only S.C. college that took part in a forum held in Cuba in October that included representatives from 50 U.S. universities, Miller said.
“I’d compared it to China in the mid-1980s,” he said. “You’re deeply rooted there if you went at that time. If you waited until it was obvious about what going to happen there, you missed the boat.”
USC’s foreign trips are paid by the university departments that send professors and administrators, and with fees charged to international students, Miller said. The USC foundation also helps with costs.
Pastides’ trip to Cuba would be the sixth nation that he has visited as president to explore partnerships. The others were South Africa, Brazil, Taiwan, Mexico and Oman.
USC has exchange agreements with universities in 55 countries. Some are in countries that have drawn protests for their human rights records, including China, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.
Obama’s Cuba trip, along with the easing of business restrictions, drew criticism because of the island nation’s slow reforms under its communist government.
“It’s a reality that these relations (between the countries) are happening,” Miller said. “The university would be negligent to ignore that.”
A lower college bill?
You don’t hear this everyday around the State House: A college president telling a state Senate budget panel that he is considering lowering tuition.
“Maybe you can be our laboratory in the state,” Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said last week to Richard Cosentino, the new president at Greenwood’s Lander University.
Cosentino told The Buzz that he is looking at shrinking the school’s $10,752-a-year tuition cost by between 1 percent and 10 percent. He said he is studying how much of a cut the school can afford before taking it to his board.
He also wants to offer unused beds in dorms for free to needy students.
“Some really great kids cannot afford college,” said Cosentino, who was hired at Lander last year after working on the finance side of the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, George Washington University and Johns Hopkins University. “Something like a bed given to a student would be a big difference between going to college or not.”
Colleges dropping their tuition rates are rare across the country.
A few private colleges, including Converse College in Spartanburg, have lowered tuition to reflect what most students pay after receiving financial assistance. Also, Washington state lawmakers ordered tuition cuts of 15 percent to 20 percent at public colleges there last year.
The closest any S.C. public college has come is Coastal Carolina University in Conway, which froze its tuition in 2013 and 2014.
Cosentino hopes smaller bills will help bolster enrollment at Lander, one of the state’s smallest four-year colleges.
He wants to grow the school’s student body, now about 2,700, past 3,000 in 2017. Cosentino thinks he can take advantage of Lander’s popular nursing and exercise science programs, and hopes to start new majors in cyber security, forensic studies, emergency management and government administration.
“We have been passive,” he said.
A tuition break might work.
The number of undergraduates at Converse has grown by 13 percent in the two years since the women’s college lowered its tuition.
▪ Gov. Nikki Haley was named one of Fortune magazine’s “50 World’s Greatest Leaders” last week. “Haley is proving that Trumpism isn’t the only way,” the magazine wrote. The Republican was listed near NBA star Stephen Curry and “Hamilton” composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.
▪ “God bless” was Haley’s favorite passive-aggressive phrase last week. She used it first Tuesday in a Facebook tiff with state Rep. Chris Corley, after suggesting someone should run against the Aiken Republican, who often has criticized the governor. Then, she said “God bless” a day later at the end of a letter demanding that U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz halt a shipment of Japanese plutonium to South Carolina.
Andrew Shain: @AndyShain